Regardless of age, many of us have experienced feelings of isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic; however, this is especially true for older adults who are not allowed visitors or who are not allowed to leave their place of residence. Face it, it is not easy to see emotions through the phone. And yet, many folks, when asked how they are doing, simply say “fine.”
Many times, older adults need more support. Phone calls can be helpful, and a program called Stay Connected takes phone calls to a new level using evidence-based depression and stress-management strategies. The program can be provided by case managers, community health workers, and other professionals who work with clients who are experiencing the impacts of isolation—stress, anxiety and/or depression—due to the COVID quarantine.
The University of Washington has a long history of collaboration with Aging and Disability Services, the Area Agency on Aging for Seattle-King County, so it made sense to reach out as we implemented a short Stay Connected pilot program in the last quarter of 2020 with diverse community partners, including housing providers and senior centers.
What is Stay Connected?
Stay Connected is a service available either by phone or videoconference sessions that uses the following strategies:
- Ask about any urgent problems and concerns. Assist the client in devising a plan to address their concerns.
- Assess the client for stress, feelings of anxiety, loneliness, and any signs of depression.
- If needed, offer resources and self-management tools to help clients independently manage stress and anxiety.
- Use evidence-based interventions to help their clients cope with isolation. “Patient activation” is a practical, psychosocial intervention that teaches a set of skills that will help people to engage or re-engage in life activities that they find rewarding and enjoyable. These skills help people independently address their feelings of mild to moderate depression. Please watch my video presentation on behavioral activation with Dr. Kari Stevens.
- If a client’s situation suggests that professional help or treatment may be necessary, Stay Connected staff will help them to connect to needed services through their health home or through a partnering community behavioral health program.
One of the agencies that indicated interest was India Association of Western Washington. When their senior services coordinator, Nanda Tewari, heard about the pilot opportunity, she was eager to get involved. Their agency oversees and provides support to 50 older people, who benefit from online classes and more frequent welfare checks. Participating in Stay Connected provides structure for outreach calls and support provided by a psychologist.
Throughout the ADS pilot, I will provide training and host support calls with agencies that are a part of the Stay Connected pilot. Regardless of where you live, whatever your age, I encourage you to stay connected.
Contributor Patrick Raue, PhD, is a professor in the University of Washington School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine, who serves on the core team at the UW Alacrity Center. Dr. Raue provided training and support to establish Stay Connected programs in California and Wyoming. He is leading the program’s rollout to senior centers and public housing facilities in Washington.