Dr. Kerry Burnight, Ph.D. - The Growth of Telehealth in Geriatric Medicine

As home health care companies, nursing homes, hospitals, and clinics shut down to all but critical care needs when COVID-19 hit, two crises took hold across the country: reduced access to health care services, and increased loneliness.

Both loneliness and COVID-19 have the biggest impact on older adults. Whether living independently at-home, in an assisted living facility, or in a skilled nursing facility, access to care and needed social connection came to a swift and abrupt halt. Family members are prevented from visiting older adults and in-person doctor visits are being put on hold to minimize risk of contracting the virus.

This interruption of health care is especially problematic for people 65 and older, 85% of whom live with at least one chronic condition and who account for 80% of hospitalizations.

Interruption of social connections is also particularly problematic for older adults because loneliness in this age group can be a predictor of functional decline and death. Research shows that older people who are lonely have a 59% increased risk of losing their independence (as measured by activities of daily living, mobility, climbing stairs and performing upper extremity tasks) and a 45% increased risk of death.

Given these associated health care risks, it is not surprising that a study by AARP found that social isolation results in increased Medicare spending by an estimated $6.7 billion a year, thought to be due to increased inpatient care costs and skilled nursing home spending.

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