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Addressing the No-Longer-Hidden Challenges of Social Isolation and Loneliness

The pandemic has increased public awareness of loneliness and social isolation – as more of us have now had an experience of isolation. While these may be new issues for many, they are not new to our elderly. Despite often being treated as synonyms, loneliness and social isolation are different issues. Loneliness is defined as a subjective social and emotional experience. It is often characterized as the discrepancy between the social relationships we have and the social relationships we wish to have. Social isolation is defined as the objective state which considers the integration of the individual in the social environment. This can encompass the frequency of social relations and social networks. Both loneliness and social isolation are linked to poor physical health.

In late February of 2020, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, Medicine published a report, The Health and Medical Dimensions of Loneliness in Older Adults, that provided additional evidence illustrated in the image above and published in the article Health Evolution – A look inside SCAN’s new Togetherness Program.

As you can see in that article, SCAN Health Plan set out to address these challenges and found success with the initiative.

More broadly, the research is clear. Helping people overcome social isolation and loneliness has a direct impact on health, and accordingly medical costs. It further creates happier members and higher satisfaction scores!

I applaud SCAN and other plans that are finding solutions to care for their members that suffer from loneliness and social isolation. They have found avenues to identify these members and normalize the conversation by removing the stigma.

BeneLynk also tackles both of these issues by being a trusted confidant to our clients’ members. Our professional advocates serve as a resource that they can call for a variety of needs or sometimes just to chat. BeneLynk screens members for SDoH challenges, documents their barriers using ICD-10 Z-codes, and assists them with programs to help them live their best lives. Many of these programs during the pandemic became virtual, so it was important to understand if the member had access to a smart phone or laptop and if they had internet access. Assisting them to connect with their peers on a zoom call might require several different points of assistance. This is the value of having a human-to-human connection – a live call that is a personal conversation, not a script or an automated recording, but can flow dynamically to address the member’s challenges and see them successfully assisted.

As Briones-Roberts states in this article, “This is a complex issue and there are no easy solutions. Understanding social determinants of health and other causal factors leading to isolation are important knowledge skills,” We at BeneLynk, share her passion and commitment to finding solutions.

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