Curbing this holiday season’s social isolation epidemic

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According to CDC, this holiday season, 1 in 4 older adults will lack regular social contact, an issue exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. To combat increased feelings of isolation among New York’s senior population,  local groups like JASA (Jewish Association Serving the Aging) — who provide critical services to over 40,000 older adults — are using programming to spread cheer and community.
Photo courtesy JASA

The holiday season, for some, will be a time of long-awaited get-togethers, in-person celebrations, and a time for festivals and traditions. However, for others — senior citizens and immunocompromised individuals wary of gathering amid a “tridemic” of flu, COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial viruses  — the holiday season can be isolating and lonely time.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this holiday season one in four older adults will lack regular social contact — an issue exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. To combat increased feelings of isolation among New York’s senior population, local groups like the Jewish Association Serving the Aging (JASA) — who provide critical services to over 40,000 older adults — are using programming to spread cheer and community.

Roughly 150 older adults came together in Co-Op City on Dec. 16 to dance, eat, and spread holiday cheer at the organization’s holiday party.
“Older adults were eager to return in person for their beloved annual holiday party, which helps to create community, provide a festive meal, counter isolation and improve mental health, as well as allow the center to offer referrals for a range of health-related needs,” a JASA spokesperson told the Bronx Times on Tuesday.  
 
Though many Americans experience loneliness, it disproportionately affects younger people, people of color and low-income individuals, according to the Cigna study. The study found that 79% of adults aged 18 to 24 report feeling lonely, in comparison with 41% of seniors aged 66 and older.
The impact of loneliness and isolation on New York’s aging population — an epidemic that was an undercurrent to the COVID-19 pandemic — is equivalent to smoking almost a pack of cigarettes daily, according to Greg Olsen, the state’s director of aging.
The holiday season is crucial time for JASA and those relying on their services.
JASA provides over 1 million meals every year to older New Yorkers through its JASA Eats program, a fundraising effort during the holiday season that aims to raise awareness about food insecurity among seniors.
Seniors attend a holiday party put on my JASA on Dec. 16, 2022.
Seniors attend a holiday party put on my JASA on Dec. 16, 2022.Photo courtesy JASA
JASA has also integrated volunteering in its approach to combat loneliness such as their JASAChat program, which connects volunteers with seniors for a weekly phone or video chat. The organization said that 88% of program matches have continued their relationships past the initial three month commitment, and long-lasting relationships have formed.
Other programs such as JASANextGen — a volunteer advocacy program led by kids to raise awareness on elder care — and  JASANextGen Junior, which includes intergenerational virtual game nights with JASA seniors and youth volunteers, are reclaiming a sense of community for seniors.
In 2017, the U.S. surgeon general declared social isolation to be a “global epidemic” — one that has only worsened due to the pandemic. According to the AARP Public Policy Institute, social isolation drives $6.7 billion in additional associated Medicare spending per year.

Reach Robbie Sequeira at [email protected] or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes

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