As someone who works with older adults, I believe it is good news that 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day. Older adults are living longer, healthier and more productive lives. They are a wonderful resource, contributing talent, wisdom and enormous economic value to our society.
As this report shows, we have made significant progress over the past decade towards improving senior health. However, over the past two years, older adults have lost some ground as the COVID-19 pandemic laid bare significant health inequities and the growing public health crisis of social isolation.
In many ways, the Senior Report reminds us of what we all already know: that who gets care, who gets sick and who dies is rooted in where we are born and raised, where we go to school, where we work and live, our race, ethnicity, gender and socioeconomic status. This is especially true during a pandemic in which longstanding inequities caused by systemic racism and discrimination are important determinants of health. Meanwhile, necessary interventions aimed at slowing the virus’s spread have highlighted the importance of social connection among older adults and others and the growing public health crisis of social isolation.
Unsurprisingly, a 2020 survey by AARP Foundation and the United Health Foundation found sharp increases across age cohorts in feelings of social isolation and anxiety. It confirmed the importance of person-centric approach to health that includes increasing awareness of social isolation and the solutions to combat it. AARP Foundation’s Connect2Affect, a consumer-facing assessment tool, can help by allowing older adults, their caregivers and loved ones to assess if an older adult is socially isolated. If they are, Connect2Affect connects them to resources and support in their own communities, both increasing awareness of social isolation and lifting up possible solutions at the individual and community levels.
Social isolation has been a longstanding public health issue for older adults but with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, awareness of the problem has skyrocketed. We know that community engagement and digital access can increase older adults’ well-being. The Senior Report reminds us that we should focus our talents, expertise and investments on solutions that address barriers to social connection.
To make progress in improving senior health, we must recognize that older adults are a resource to be tapped, not a problem to be solved. Our communities are healthiest when everyone is a full member, with the voice, power and opportunity to contribute to their fullest potential. With the data in the Senior Report, and the solutions that AARP Foundation and countless other organizations are working towards, we can strengthen the connections between older adults and their communities. By learning from their experiences and drawing on their wisdom, we will create a healthier America. Because, when older adults thrive, we all do.