By Staff Writer
The City of Los Angeles Department of Aging and Element3 Health Monday jointly announced the launch of the End Loneliness Initiative, a collaboration aimed at curtailing the rise of social isolation and loneliness in older adults that is growing in the face of ongoing “shelter in place” measures.
Loneliness and isolation had been a significant factor in older adults’ health before COVID-19 and has been exacerbated by the ongoing crisis, officials say.
The initiative seeks to correct and prevent a rise in loneliness, particularly among older “shelter in place” measures. As a founding partner of the End Loneliness Initiative, the City of Los Angeles Department of Aging will help provide free solutions to provide meaningful, safe social connections for the region’s 1.2 million older adults.
As a leading expert in providing meaningful social connections for older adults, Element3 Health spearheaded the initiative to proactively address the loneliness epidemic. The initiative is focused on providing individuals with free access to meaningful social connections centered around activities that they enjoy. According to the organization, too many other efforts are well-intended but only offer standardized formats which do not address individual interests, talents and hobbies that compel people to become and stay engaged.
“To protect themselves against the rising number of COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles, older adults find themselves increasingly cut off from their friends, families and communities. This has put them at increased risk of social isolation, loneliness and depression. The End Loneliness Initiative could not have come at a better time,” said Laura Trejo, general manager of the City of Los Angeles Department of Aging. “We are excited to work with the End Loneliness Initiative to provide older adults with social activities that they enjoy and can do from home.”
Social isolation and loneliness carry the same health risk as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and is associated with an increased risk of premature death, Element3 Health says. In addition, Stay at home and social distancing measures created a new urgency to what had been a growing problem.
“As devastating as COVID-19 is, formidable health consequences are still looming on the horizon,” said Element3 Health chairman and CEO David Norris. “Active, healthy older adults have been finding themselves socially isolated, physically inactive and alone. If we don’t do something now, a ‘second pandemic’ of heart disease, cancer and other loneliness and isolation-related illnesses will hit us in the years to come.”
The Los Angeles Department of Aging was drawn to the Initiative’s commitment to address social isolation and loneliness by creating engaging connections between older adults. The 1.2 million older adults in the region includes 20,000 retirees of the City of Los Angeles, who are part of the Los Angeles City Employees Retirement System (LACERS).
“LACERS is looking forward to integrating this program into its retiree wellness program, LACERS Well, to bring more opportunities of social engagement and connectedness to its retirees,“ said Neil Guglielmo, LACERS General Manager.
Julianne Holt-Lunstad, professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Brigham Young University, whose research helped establish a definitive link between loneliness and declining health, said people who have strong social connections are as much as 50% less likely to die over a given period of time than those who have weaker social bonds.
“Interventions to tackle this health problem should be as paramount as smoking cessation, physical fitness and nutrition interventions,” she said.
In this current climate, those interventions are few and far between, which is why the End Loneliness Initiative is focused squarely on solutions that motivate older adults to join and participate.
As part of the End Loneliness Initiative, Element3 Health is marshalling resources to provide all older adults in the nation, starting with Los Angeles, free access to virtual social and activity clubs. These virtual clubs are designed to connect older adults based on their shared passions in activity clubs that meet virtually on a safe and easy-to-use platform. Virtual chess, embroidery, dance, tai chi and other clubs are helping older adults stay healthy and socially connected, while maintaining the physical distance necessary to preserve their health and the health of their peers.
“The urgency of the moment requires immediate action,” Norris said. “We couldn’t wait for someone else to do this, so we and our supporters are addressing this issue today. We applaud the City of Los Angeles for taking this proactive step with us.”