According to a recent study by Pew Research Center, the number of elderly people living alone in the US is double that of other countries. In other countries, older relatives tend to live with their families as they age or move into care communities. But this is not always available for everyone.
As with any age group, elderly people living alone can suffer from loneliness, depression, stress and anxiety. The US’s aging population means that over the years, more and more elderly people will experience these negative feelings and something needs to be done about it.
When it comes to healthcare, the Chronic Conditions Data Warehouse reported a 5% increase in the number of Medicare treatments for depression between 2008 and 2017. With the added impacts of the pandemic meaning most of us have not been able to visit our elderly relatives, the trend suggests this percentage will likely have increased steadily since 2017, with a huge surge over the past year.
Combining these mental ailments with chronic pain and other medical conditions can no doubt leave someone feeling incredibly low and unstable. Even a small ailment which requires bed rest while you recover, can often feel debilitating and insurmountable. So, we can only begin to imagine what those suffering from chronic illness might be going through.
The Impact of the Pandemic on Loneliness
Over the past year, most of us have suffered with feelings of loneliness or emptiness and have struggled with the uncertainty around us. With restrictions in place across a large portion of the world, a lot of friends and family have been apart for months.
Parents have been increasingly concerned about their teenage children having symptoms of mental illness, or have noticed their mental wellbeing worsening. But this is not the only age group that has been severely impacted. The older generations have been at higher risk of catching COVID-19, meaning care homes and communities have closed their doors to protect our elderly relatives, leading a lot of people to suffer in silence as the opportunity to get out and socialize – or even maintain a level of normality – has been limited.
Last year, the Disaster Distress Hotline saw a 338% increase in the number of calls and 1000% increase in the number of text messages they were receiving. And that is just in February and March alone. There were a lot of concerns from callers over the financial impact of the pandemic, anxiety around catching the virus, grieving those who had been victim to it, and the loneliness quarantining was creating.
So how are health practices using their facilities to intervene with senior loneliness, so that they can shift their focus to treating their own chronic pain symptoms? And how can these professionals prevent all of this happening before it becomes a larger problem in the future?
That is where Chronic Care Management Programs comes in
Chronic care management programs are a true lifeline connection for elderly people. Patients under Medicare can be put forward for the Chronic Care Management program (CCM) which works to put a supportive network in place for those that need it. While this network is typically for chronic conditions, research shows there is a link between such conditions and loneliness. The right CCM will work to put services in place to assess and intervene with both sets of issues.
How does it work?
The CCM supportive network allows the patient to build social connections and reduce the negative outcomes that can come with ageing and chronic pain. The Public Policy & Agency Report also states that there is evidence of how social connections can reduce the risk of premature mortality. By encouraging new social interactions or recommending patients to access community groups, they are less at risk of feeling lonely, stressed or anxious.
It is not just a link to social connections the CCM provides either. There is also a 24/7 nurse line available to all patients. The ability to access support, advice, or even just someone to talk to around-the-clock provides vulnerable patients with reassurance and the chance to reach out when they need it – without feeling like a burden.
Practices using the ChartSpan CCM, for example, are encouraged to reach out to all their patients every month to gauge how they are feeling – mentally and physically. These can be long conversations or quick check up calls, but they can make a huge difference for the person on the other end of the line.
During the call, practitioners can determine their patient’s social health to aid a positive ageing process and prevent chronic conditions becoming a larger problem. They also work with the patient to create SMART goals to help them manage their own mental wellbeing by staying active, reaching out to friends and finding hobbies that make them feel happy.
Under the ChartSpan program, nurses and practitioners are trained to not just focus on chronic conditions, but also to assess feelings of isolation, anxiety and stress. They are able to proactively listen out for signs of depression and suicidal thoughts, as well as reacting to those grieving the loss of a loved one. ChartSpan CCM teams are also equipped to provide the PHQ-2 depression screening service. These notes are then added to the patient’s record and sent back to their health provider, with any areas of concern flagged for their attention.
Patients have found CCM programs to be particularly helpful during the pandemic. While not many people have noticed much improvement in their underlying health issues, having someone to check in with or talk to has eased the isolation of quarantine. In a time where mental illness is already surging, CCM programs are becoming a line of friendship for those under their care.
If you are suffering from chronic conditions or have an elderly family member that could benefit from the positive impact a Chronic Care Management program can have, get in contact with your physician or care provider to find out more information. You never know, you could make a new friend, feel less stressed and also get help for other medical conditions.