Research studies over the past decade have shown social isolation and loneliness can be just as much a threat to longevity as obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes a day. The pandemic is only making things worse.

We all have a responsibility to make sure we are doing what we can to reach this vulnerable population, whether it's reaching out to someone by phone to check on their well-being or supporting programs that can help.

Using money awarded to Texas Health by the AARP Foundation, Texas Health has developed a pilot program called Reduce Social Isolation and Lift Outcomes for Seniors or Reduce SILOS. The aim is to identify the socially isolated, educate them on health risks and connect them to organizations and programs in their community that can help.

The program, launched last month, targets low-income individuals, age 50 and older, living in southeast Fort Worth, east Arlington and Springtown, in Parker County. Physicians at Texas Health clinics screen and refer potential candidates for the program via electronic health records, just as they would when ordering a scan or a test. Chaplains screen inpatients at our two participating hospitals, Texas Health Arlington Memorial and Texas Health Fort Worth.

Community health workers then conduct a deeper assessment to determine the level of participants’ social isolation and risk of depression. Based on those findings, participants receive educational aids and are connected to organizations and programs in their community that can help. Those who fall into the moderate category and show signs of depression are referred to the University of Washington Health Promotion Research Center’s nationally recognized Program to Encourage Active, Rewarding Lives, or PEARLS, which uses in-home counseling to address depression.

Clients will be rescreened by a community health worker multiple times within 12 months to track their progress. By the end of the three-year grant, the goal is to reduce social isolation by 10%.

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