Coronavirus & The Elderly: Isolation takes a toll

Experts warn social distancing can take a major toll on the mental health of the elderly, but outreach programs can make a huge difference. NBC's Sarah Dallof reports.

(NBC News) — Increasingly isolated and lacking support, many senior citizens are struggling as the coronavirus pandemic drags on.

A recent study from Johns Hopkins finds double the number of older Americans say they’re experiencing psychological distress compared to 2018.

Part of that is loneliness, which can affect physical and mental health.

“There’s a real impact on cognitive health, memory loss, mental sharpness, ability to do advanced thinking as well as depression and anxiety,” says Dr. Christina Prather of the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

The school is working to combat social isolation with a program that matches Washington, D.C. area seniors and volunteers, all medical students, via phone.

While they can connect callers with health services, the calls are meant to be conversational, not medical.

“I remember talking to one senior who said something along the lines of it being too good to be true that this service exists,” says medical student Olivia Silva.

The special connections have been so successful the school plans to keep the program going post-pandemic.

“We need to build more bridges across generations and this is an opportunity to build bridges and give people a local grandparent,” Dr. Prather says.

In Boston, outreach comes sealed and stamped. The “Letters Against Isolation” campaign started by two sisters has sent more than 18,000 pieces of mail.

Read more here.