Washington, D.C.—Today, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing, entitled “Aging Without Community: The Consequences of Social Isolation and Loneliness.”
Sen. Casey invited Richard Creech, age 63, of Harrisburg, Pa., to testify before the panel on how technology makes it possible for him to live in his own home, raise a family, and continue to be independent as he ages. Mr. Creech, who has cerebral palsy, used an assistive augmentation device to deliver his testimony.
“In his book, Rick refers to himself as a unicorn,” said Sen. Casey. “I could not have picked a better description if I tried. I have read some of Rick’s work and his spirit is magical. I am pleased that he had the chance to share with the Committee how his powered wheelchair, augmentative communication device, and adapted van helps him remain employed and actively engaged in his community.”
Assistive technology is any technology that allows a person with a disability to continue to be independent and interact with those in their family, neighborhood, and the greater community. Access to assistive technology has proven to increase the independence of individuals as they age and to increase the amount of time they are able to live in their own homes and communities. While the full details have yet to be released, the President’s Budget blueprint for fiscal year (FY) 2018 threatens programs that provide funding for assistive technology and other interventions that help address social isolation and loneliness.
“As someone who was born with cerebral palsy and was without the ability to speak in the accepted way, I grew up lonely and isolated–except for my parents and grandmothers,” Mr. Creech said. “It was not until I received my first vocal output communication device that people began know that they could speak to me and I could speak to them, well, at least, some people did. He further commented that without the use of technology, his “brain would turn to mush that not even a zombie would want to eat.”
“Living without being able to communicate, is like being behind four glass walls. You are able to see others and people can see you, but you are ignored, or worse, talked down to until you stop remembering who you are and why you are important,” Mr. Creech concluded.
During the hearing, Sen. Casey also mentioned that the President’s Budget proposal would reduce or cut funding for intervention programs that help combat isolation and loneliness. “When it comes to programs like Meals on Wheels, I believe the administration’s proposed budget cuts are misguided to say the least,” Sen. Casey said. He also recounted the story conveyed to him in March by a Meals on Wheels driver in rural Northeastern Pennsylvania, who while delivery meals heard a client calling out for help. The client had fallen in a snowbank following the recent blizzard. The driver likely saved the life of that client.
According to the Administration on Community Living, approximately 29 percent of people age 65 and over live alone. And twice as many women live alone than men. Nearly 50 percent of women age 75 and over live by themselves. Additional risk factors that contribute to social isolation include mobility or sensory impairment, chronic health conditions or disabilities, life transitions or losses, financial resources, accessible neighborhoods, transportation, as well as racial, ethnic or language barriers.
On May 10, the committee will hold the second of the two-part series on ways to prevent and reduce social isolation and loneliness for aging adults and people with disabilities.