This month marks the three-year anniversary of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has changed the fabric of society—and thrust social isolation and loneliness further into the spotlight. However, the urgent need to address social isolation and loneliness had been gaining attention in the public health community long before the pandemic. Research has long shown the impact of social isolation and loneliness on health with both often associated with adverse health outcomes, such as chronic illness, worsening self-rated heath and cognitive decline.[i]
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, estimates showed that 43 percent of older adults reported feeling lonely and 27 percent reported feeling isolated from others, which has only been exacerbated by the challenging social isolation that many have experienced over the last few years.[ii],[iii] More recent research shows that people with disabilities are more likely to report loneliness, social isolation and low social support compared to their peers without disabilities.[iv] Additionally, family and friend caregivers may also be more vulnerable to social isolation and loneliness as 21 percent of caregivers reported feeling alone in a 2020 study.[v]
The first cohort of Community Care Corps grantees who began implementing their volunteer models in the fall of 2020, and saw their plans quickly change when safety protocols required a pivot, resulting in changes to their program models to safely and effectively meet the needs of their community. Since then, Community Care Corps grantees have had to be equally as creative as the nation has adapted to living with COVID-19 as a regular part of life. To ensure that older adults, adults with disabilities and family caregivers remain engaged and supported in their communities, grantees have:
Permanently integrated hybrid options for support: The uncertainty at the start of the pandemic prompted many organizations to pivot to virtual service delivery. However, being mindful of the importance of connection and engagement, many grantees developed hybrid formats to sustain respite offerings, support groups and social activities. Grantees have continued to demonstrate their innovation and dedication to maintaining these hybrid service options that promote engagement and connection.
Doubled down on social interaction: Many grantees provide nonmedical assistance in the form of grocery delivery, essential errands, and home repair and maintenance. Witnessing the impact of pandemic isolation and loneliness first-hand in their communities, grantees have capitalized on creative opportunities to intentionally weave social interaction into their volunteer models. Many have embedded friendly calling and visiting components, while others have expanded their social offerings to serve larger audiences on a more frequent basis.
Addressed the digital divide: The world has gone virtual and there’s no sign of turning back. As a result, it has become increasingly important to combat the digital divide that exists across generations and varying socioeconomic groups. To help older adults, adults with disabilities and family caregivers stay engaged and connected to essential service providers, many grantees supply their communities with internet tablets and service. In addition, grantees coordinate comprehensive technology training to help individuals keep pace with new and emerging mediums of virtual connection, not only for engaging with friends and loved ones, but also for utilizing essential telehealth services.
To learn more about how this year’s Community Care Corps grantees are safely meeting the unique needs of the populations they support, take a look at their program summaries and check out these videos from their volunteers and participants.