While the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has affected us all, it’s no secret that seniors are more prone to feelings of isolation than others—even outside of times of social distancing.
No matter the circumstances, but particularly as we face a disruption in our everyday routine, social connection is a crucial determinant of health, and social isolation can have very serious impacts on an individual’s well-being, both physical and emotional. In fact, isolation and loneliness among older adults are considered to be a serious public health concern, given the effects on cardiovascular, autoimmune, neurocognitive, and mental health.
(Related: Loneliness Can Kill Your Clients)
Luckily, advisors can help their most vulnerable client-base understand the resources available to support their total health needs at this most critical time. Here are a few ways to do so:
Encourage Use of Fitness Benefits
Regular physical exercise is linked to positive mental health and can help fight depression in seniors by stimulating muscle-generated mood boosters. Fortunately, many Medicare Advantage plans offer fitness benefits, like SilverSneakers, which could be a great option for those currently in need of a “boost” to both their emotional and physical health.
For individuals who are accustomed to daily physical activity, maintaining their regular fitness routine can help them feel a sense of normalcy in their life, which has been proven to reduce feelings of anxiety.
While beneficiaries won’t be able to participate in group classes at the moment, virtual programs offered on SilverSneakers’ Facebook page are currently available to anyone with internet access.
As of March, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has expanded access to telehealth services so beneficiaries have access to a wider range of services, without having to travel to a health care facility and potentially expose themselves to COVID-19. This means that traditional Medicare will cover the cost of telehealth usage, regardless of the reason it is needed (not just specific to COVID-19).
This broadening of services is crucial for those who may struggle with comorbidities or pre-existing conditions, but it’s also important for those who may be struggling with mental health during this time, as Medicare beneficiaries now have access to counseling through telehealth services.
For those who have Medicare Advantage plans, make sure they are aware of their specific provider’s protocol for this benefit. Aetna, for example, is currently offering zero co-pay telemedicine visits with network providers to all Aetna individual and group Medicare Advantage members for any reason, COVID-19 related or otherwise.
Lean on Support Programs
Finally, certain Medicare Advantage plans offer programs like Aetna’s Resources For Living (RFL), which, in light of COVID-19, is offering support and resources to any individuals and organizations who have been impacted by COVID-19, regardless of whether they are Aetna Medicare Advantage members or not.
This program can help seniors and their families receive in-the-moment phone support from a caring consultant who will help them cope with impacts of COVID-19, including sharing information on dealing with the crisis, mitigating increased mental health risks and providing community resource referrals.
While plans, benefits and the world continue to change day-by-day, the need to address these aspects of your clients’ health will remain constant. As we navigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our everyday lives together, advisors have an opportunity to serve as a resource to their senior clients to put them at ease and ensure they are aware of the resources available to them.
Christopher Ciano is president of Aetna Medicare.
Cara McNulty, DPA, is president of Behavioral Health & EAP at Aetna.