Looking to address the issue of social isolation and loneliness among American Indian and Alaska Native elders, the National Indian Council on Aging (NICOA) launches a national campaign today to educate Native families about the health concern and offer resources.
In addition to elders, the Connected Indigenous Elders campaign targets caregivers, youth and tribal leaders to engage and remind them that they all play an important role in our elders’ mental wellbeing and physical health. One study showed that prolonged social isolation was as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and is more harmful than obesity.
About one-fourth of elders 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated. Elders are at increased risk for loneliness and social isolation because they are more likely to face factors such as living alone, the loss of family or friends, chronic illness, and hearing loss, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
“We know that elders who are socially connected live longer, have less health problems and can have some protection from mental health issues such as dementia and Alzheimer’s,” NICOA Executive Director Larry Curley said. “Our elders are our culture and language keepers – they are the foundation of our communities.”
Audio and video public service announcements about the issue, which intensified in many tribal nations during the height of COVID-19, will play on tribal radio stations across the country, including on Indian Health Service’s waiting room cable service, GoodHealthTV.
The three-month campaign funded by a grant from the CDC Foundation points to resources such as how to detect depression and tips for elders on how to stay socially connected on connectedindigenouselders.org. The website also contains information for caregivers, who are often family members juggling work, children and multiple responsibilities. The campaign encourages self-care among caregivers, who will be encouraged to enter in an online contest for a drawing for personal care products.
#ConnectedIndigenousElders also persuades youth, who will also be encouraged to enter into an online contest on how they engage with their elders, to learn from and help take care of tribal knowledge keepers. Tribal leaders as decision-makers for elder programs will also be engaged.
The campaign is part of a project supported by a grant from the CDC Foundation using funding provided by donors to the CDC Foundation’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund.