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NCI: Indicators of Isolation and Loneliness during COVID-19

To aid the intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) community in this unprecedented time, the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities (DODD) is sharing some National Core Indicators (NCI) data from the 2018-19 In-Person Survey.

This data, though not collected during the coronavirus (COVID-19) state of emergency, points to areas where DODD, county boards, and providers might be able to help mitigate feelings of social isolation and loneliness among people with IDD -- feelings that may be heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting stay-at-home orders.

Seven indicators were selected, many of which were new for the 2018-19 data cycle, that speak to the ability of people to reach out to friends and family as well as the potential role of technology in helping people feel less isolated and in supporting their health and welfare.

View this data attached at the right of the page.

Using Technology to Facilitate Connection

As people across the country self-isolate, practice social distancing, and adhere to stay-at-home orders from national, state, and local governments to prevent further spread of COVID-19, DODD and other state agencies are busy working with the federal government and others to realign delivery systems, policies, and regulations to respond to the pandemic. Some of these adjustments involve a heavier reliance on telehealth systems, virtual meetings, online portals, and other technology to ensure the health and welfare of people using community services.

While states are relying on technology to continue case management monitoring, technology also offers opportunities to help people with IDD stay connected with their families and loved ones. There are opportunities for systems to reduce the social isolation of people receiving services, which is particularly important given that such isolation can lead to increased loneliness and depression and place people at increased risk of abuse.

Possible Strategies

Here are some examples of how county boards, providers, direct support professionals (DSPs), and others can use these data to develop strategies for enhancing access to communication technology.

For those respondents who do not have a cellphone or smartphone due to cost, the county board and/or providers could explore ways to access affordable phone and internet plans.

For example:

For those respondents who want help to keep in contact with friends -- or for respondents who do not have other ways to talk, chat, or communicate with friends when they cannot see each other -- the county board might work with the person, family member(s), and service providers to look at innovative ways to help people communicate.

  • County boards might work with provider agencies or technology developers to design innovative strategies to help people stay in contact with friends and loved ones.
  • County boards and service providers could design education and training initiatives for people with disabilities or DSPs aimed at how to use and support virtual communication tools like Zoom or Skype.

For respondents who cannot see family when they want, county board staff might consider strategies for providers to help families stay connected.

  • Service and support administrators (SSAs) can work with families to add periodic, recurring reminders into their calendars. These reminders can help families stay in touch with their family member.
  • The Pioneer Network is organizing resources from members, including a useful resource from the Eden Alternative on tips to combat isolation and loneliness. While primarily directed at the elderly population, this resource may be of interest to managers and programs seeking support ideas for people with IDD, particularly those who are aging. 
  • If families can’t visit their family member with IDD because of the need for social distancing, provider staff or SSAs can arrange virtual meetings to make those connections.