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Social isolation will kill (and save) seniors

Social isolation will kill (and save) seniors

April 8, 2020

Social distancing, isolation, and stay-at-home orders are slowing the spread of the coronavirus, saving the lives of many seniors who tend to be the most vulnerable to complications stemming from covid-19. Lost in the narrative, however, is the number of lives that will be lost due to social isolation of seniors.

Since starting WalkWise, I have heard too many stories about people being “found on the floor”. It has happened to my own family and friends. In one particularly terrible instance, a friend was found on the bathroom floor: two days after having fallen. Would she have survived if this had happened in April of 2020? I’m not so sure.

The problem with falls

Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury for older adults. In a 2008 study*, researchers found that in the event of a fall, 54% of people were found on the floor. About 4 of 5 falls happened while the senior was alone. About 30% of those who fell were on the floor for over an hour on at least one occasion. Some people in the study had emergency response pendants, however, in 80% of falls, people with pendants were unable (or refused) to call for help.

The problem with isolation​

These numbers should scare us, even in the best of times. Unfortunately, seniors are now more isolated than ever and the response time to falls will only increase. Imagine a person who typically attends bingo on Monday, goes to dinner with family on Wednesday, receives cleaning services on Thursday, visits a friend in a senior living community on Friday, and goes to church on Sunday. These are all opportunities for others to intervene, make a visit, or call a neighbor if they suspect anything is wrong. All these activities and visits have now gone away. What’s left?

Connected Social Isolation

We need technology more than ever. Phones can do wonders, but are we really going to call our loved ones five times a day for the foreseeable future? Pendants are helpful, but as the study showed, they are rarely effective. We need ways to understand their hour-by-hour activity, first to make sure they are safe, but also to make sure they are staying healthy and active while sheltering at home. Everyone is different: WalkWise has the solution for walker users. For a daily check-in app, check-out “Snug Safety”. A motion sensor may work for some others.

Whatever we do, we need to do it now, because the danger to older adults is higher than ever.

Peter Chamberlain

Founder & CEO, WalkWise

*Fleming J, Brayne C. Inability to get up after falling, subsequent time on floor, and summoning help: prospective cohort study in people over 90. Bmj. 2008 Nov 17;337:a2227.

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