By Paul Weiss, President, The Oasis Institute
The COVID-19 pandemic has altered every element of American life, and to a large extent, no segment of the population has been more affected than older adults. Of course, the most obvious expression of this is that seniors are most vulnerable to severe symptoms of the disease. The only clear path to preventing infection is isolation, which presents its own barrage of mental and physical health risks. Seniors are silently suffering from incipient anxiety, depression, and nutritional deficiencies due to barriers of access to restaurants, supermarkets, and fresh produce. Health risks such as these, amplified by physical and social activity limitations, are documented as contributors to cognitive decline. These “secondary” consequences of seniors’ intensified isolation experience during this pandemic may produce some of the most problematic long-term effects.
Oasis singularly focuses on developing virtual solutions and educational resources and assistance to our participants for implementing them. Our new virtual center, Oasis Everywhere, accessed through www.oasiseverywhere.org, provides a rich catalog of live interactive lifelong learning and socially connecting programs. Oasis Connections offers instructional videos to help people with technical skill acquisition. Oasis Tutoring provides tutors opportunities to virtually mentor and assist with literacy skill enrichment of elementary school students. These pivots demonstrate the numerous ways we are continuing to deliver our successful-aging mission during this period of uncertainty and isolation for older adults. However, we know that older adults’ needs during this incredibly challenging period exceed the reach of even a broadly focused organization like Oasis. The need for a community of organizations focused on educating, providing service to, and recognizing older adults’ necessities is critical.
Recently, I had the opportunity to review the “Putting the ‘Me’ in Medicare” eBook, produced by Aetna® Medicare as “a guide to total health during the COVID-19 pandemic.” This thoughtful digital guide includes in-depth content on numerous topics ranging from nutrition in the “Eating healthy” chapter to mental health wellness, providing clickable links to resources for activities to stimulate your mind as well as advice for staying calm through the pandemic. The “Aging actively” section has a wealth of information, tips, and alternatives for exercising outside of a group setting, as well as a Q&A with U.S. figure skater Dorothy Hamill and a fitness tracker. “Living local” presents an alternate take on social distancing, supporting that it’s best to practice physical distancing, but vital to remain socially connected to your community, friends, and family—stressing the importance of adopting new ways to do so through the use of technology. There are tips for accessing technology to support your health, including instructions to join a Zoom call, Medicare resources for staying healthy, and more.
The eBook is aesthetically pleasing to the eye and accessible to older adult readers, with large, brightly colored fonts (which can be enlarged in the browser), wide margins, sharp photography and graphics, and minimalist layout, making for smooth and simple navigation. It’s incredibly user-friendly, with linkable chapters and pages in the table of contents allowing the user to route through pages seamlessly.
More than just an informational guide, the Aetna eBook includes a plethora of resources, many of them with virtual options, for diving deeper into both health education and solution-finding subjects. The eBook is rich with links to food delivery services, healthy eating guides, and even telephone referral services for older adults with limited access to or lower confidence using technology.
The eBook notably addresses mental health in practical and thoughtful ways, providing validation to older adults about their feelings of loneliness and anxiety during the pandemic, and encouraging proactive behaviors to feel more connected and stimulated despite real feelings of isolation. The suggestions on exercise and movement for health during this period of lockdown and quarantine are practical and implementable. The sections on technology were an essential part of the eBook as Aetna embraces technology as a vehicle to combat isolation and gain access to crucial health resources. At Oasis, we believe strongly that older adults can acquire new technological skills. We’ve developed curricula targeted towards a late-adopter older adult audience, specifically to achieve that goal.
While no compact digital resource can cover all successful aging elements during a pandemic, Aetna’s eBook covers a tremendous amount of ground considerately and comprehensively. I am very encouraged to see a significant player in the health insurance and health solutions industry approach older adult policyholders with this class of resources— and it is so timely.