Though much attention has been directed at the rise in loneliness during the pandemic, its specific impact on elderly populations has not be reviewed separately, reflecting the false but potentially widespread notion that older adults are impacted similarly by loneliness.

In fact, loneliness is an especially growing and pervasive problem among older populations. A recent study conducted by researchers at UC San Francisco on rates of loneliness among older adults during the pandemic found that 47% of participants (who were 75 years old, on average) reported moderate to high degrees of loneliness. Fifty-four percent of these participants indicated that their feelings of loneliness became worse during the pandemic.

Loneliness is associated with a variety of negative health and wellness outcomes (e.g., anxiety, depression, and early cognitive decline. Results from the study at UC San Francisco suggest that older individuals who experience loneliness are just as, if not more, susceptible to these poor health outcomes. Sixty-two percent of the subjects who reported feelings of loneliness expressed feelings of increase depression, and 57% reported feelings of increased anxiety.

 

Caregivers For The Isolated And Elderly

While most of the seniors referenced in the studies above are likely retired, this does not mean that most companies are free of the issues that stem from the substantial population of elderly adults suffering from prolonged and intense loneliness. These individuals often have caretakers who they depend on in ways that employers must be aware of and learn how to accommodate. They spend countless hours after (and sometimes during) work tending to their care receiver’s psychological needs, alleviating their concerns, and helping them feel connected during a time when elderly individuals are especially prone to feelings of isolation.

The care these individuals provide can interfere with their engagement, productivity, and overall well-being. As Wellable has previously reported, the loss in workplace performance due to caregiving responsibilities costs businesses around $33 billion each year. Because of this, employers ought to offer their caregivers benefits and accommodations that make their caregiving responsibilities less effortful, stressful, and time-consuming. To accomplish this, employers should:

  1. Ensure that caregiving employees feel comfortable communicating their needs: Employees who are dealing with the psychological needs of isolated seniors may not feel comfortable asking for accommodations. Employers should make it clear to employees that they are aware of the caregiving work that needs to be done and are more than willing to help them work around their caregiving responsibilities.

  2. Offer flexibility: Being a caregiver can make it hard to predict when one will have the time and energy for work. Elderly adults don't always need help at the same time and regaining one's mental focus isn't always a consistent and clear-cut process. Because of this, organizations should provide the caregivers within their ranks additional flexibility that allows for odd work hours and unexpected schedule changes without deductions in pay. In doing so, companies alleviate their employees of the stress associated with sticking to a work schedule when one's mental and physical availability is constantly in flux.
     
  3. Offer courses on how to use various video-chatting platforms: As some studies indicate, older adults face many barriers when it comes to adopting new media technologies (e.g., a lack of confidence in the ability to use new technology, lack of instructions, and feelings of inadequacy compared with younger generations). As a result, caregivers are often either unable to connect with their care receivers or must travel to wherever these individuals are located, taking more time out of their days, draining the energy reserves, and ultimately depleting their ability to enjoy the work they do for their organizations. To combat this, employers should consider offering courses on how to use new video chatting technologies along with other forms of social media that might facilitate social interactions to both their employees and the individuals whose social wellness they take care of.
      
  4. Provide the tools needed for easy and efficient digital interactions: Even for those who are adept at using the best-of-breed digital interaction technologies and platforms, frequent use of these means of social interaction can become exceedingly frustrating and stressful when the devices and tools needed to utilize them (e.g., computers, internet service, etc.) are slow and outdated. Companies looking to minimize the additional strain placed on caregiving employees should ensure that they have ready access to the tools and services that make digital interactions quick and seamless.
      
  5. Encourage their caregivers to take care of themselves: Workers who are preoccupied with the daily task of managing someone else’s health and well-being may let their own wellness fall by the wayside. Employers should remind caregivers of the importance of taking care of their own health and of simple steps they can take to be well (e.g., staying hydrated, getting fresh air, practicing mindfulness, etc.).

Check out Wellable’s previous post on how to support caregiving employees for additional suggestions.

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