How Online Therapy Can Support Homebound Seniors

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telemedicine concept elderly woman using laptop and taking her blood pressure

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Online therapy can be a lifeline for anyone looking to boost their mental health and alleviate stress, which can be the case for homebound seniors and those feeling isolated, lonely and perhaps forgotten.

But what does online therapy entail exactly, what can it achieve and where can you get help? Read on to learn more about the basics of online therapy and the life-enriching benefits it can offer homebound seniors. 

Online Therapy Overview

Online therapy, or teletherapy, offers virtual treatment—such as talk therapy and other forms of counseling services—with a mental health care provider from the comfort of your own home. Services are typically rendered via video, but online therapy can also consist of supplementary emails, chats and text messages. 

The virtual nature of online therapy offers several key benefits and advantages for homebound seniors and others with mobility issues. Namely, it eliminates the need for in-office mental health visits, which can minimize the spread of illness, save time and circumvent transportation difficulties. Online therapy also offers a measure of privacy and confidentiality by skirting traditional waiting room routines and interactions. The value of that meaningful interaction and connectivity with minimal effort shouldn’t be underestimated. 

Of course, there are also drawbacks and concerns relating to online therapy. For instance, not everyone feels comfortable sharing their emotions, struggles and difficulties freely over the internet. Others may feel daunted by the technology required to receive online therapy—or not have access to it.       

Despite these challenges, research supports the efficacy and worth of online therapy. A 2014 study in Depression and Anxiety found teletherapy to be more effective for homebound seniors than in-home visits from therapists, and a recent JAMA study suggests telecare can help improve medication adherence, daily living skills and overall quality of life among older adults. Another study in Aging & Society found older patients who used online therapy services improved at about the same rate as younger patients—and 65% of older patients with depression and anxiety showed “clinical improvement.” 

The Need for Online Therapy and Mental Health Interventions for Homebound Seniors

Homebound seniors struggle with a multitude of difficulties, conditions and health care shortcomings. They are an extremely vulnerable—and often overlooked—at-risk population.  “Isolated older adults are at greater risk for developing depression, anxiety, stress-induced illness, suicidal ideation, substance use and other underlying medical complications,” writes reseracher Max Zubatsky in an article in the Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging. Unfortunately, 27% of U.S. adults over the age of 60 live alone—more than any other country in the world, according to Pew Research Center. There are nearly 2 million homebound people over 65 nationwide, and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation reports 51% of these older adults face at least one additional barrier, such as living alone or lacking technology.

Research in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society elaborates on the massive mental health challenges homebound seniors face: “Psychiatric disorders are common among the homebound elderly (40.5%), and the two most prevalent mental disorders among the homebound elderly are dementia and depression. Dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, is the leading problem associated with being homebound, affecting 29% of the homebound population. A recent study showed that up to 17% of homebound elders have undiagnosed cognitive impairments.”

While not a cognitive health silver bullet, online therapy services offer a bit of hope amid such profound need.

Online Therapy Costs, Considerations and Possible Limitations

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Before signing up for any online therapy services, review your insurance coverage. Many plans require some sort of mental health diagnosis before covering costs associated with online therapy. Costs may also vary significantly depending on your location and the type of services you’d like to receive.

Medicare now offers the same coverage for virtual counseling as in-person counseling. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Coverage Services (CMS) explains, “Medicare beneficiaries will be able to receive a specific set of services through telehealth including evaluation and management visits (common office visits), mental health counseling and preventive health screenings.” All Affordable Care Act (ACA) plans require mental health coverage as well.

Aside from identifying an affordable source of care, prioritize a mental health professional with experience treating older adults and common aging issues. Homebound seniors in particular require a specialized suite of tools and strategies to cope with their unique circumstances and challenges. You might also search for local providers or mental health specialists with a niche in caring for homebound seniors.

You also have plenty of treatment forums to consider. To help suss out pros, cons and key features of some of the more popular platforms, Forbes Health’s list of the best online therapy providers for 2022 showcases popular options, such as:

  • LiveHealth Online
  • Talkspace
  • Cerebral
  • Amwell
  • MDLive
  • BetterHelp
  • Teladoc
  • Doctor on Demand
  • Open Path
  • eTherapyPro

The companies listed above charge anywhere from $40 to $129 per session, and some require a membership or subscription fee. Meanwhile, another Forbes Health article notes that the average cost of psychotherapy in the U.S. ranges from $100 to $200 per session.

Regardless, you can’t put a price on optimal mental health. So whether it’s for yourself or a loved one, prioritize finding an online therapy source that fits your budget, goals and objectives. 

Robby Brumberg is an editor at Forbes Health.