Keeping seniors safe through social distancing continues to be absolutely vital as COVID-19 continues to be a dangerous health concern, but it’s also important to ensure they don’t drift into social isolation. Many of us have experienced an increase in stress as we have experienced a drop in meaningful activities and social engagements due to the isolation the pandemic has caused us. All of these stressors are heightened for seniors.
Research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions including high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and even death.
According to the National Institute on Aging, “people who find themselves unexpectedly alone due to the death of a spouse or partner, separation from friends or family, retirement, loss of mobility, and lack of transportation are at particular risk. Social distancing due to the pandemic could potentially be added to that list of risks. On the other hand, people who engage in meaningful, productive activities with others tend to live longer, experience a better mood, and have a sense of purpose in life”.
Families may find that having several strategies to help keep their loved ones socially connected during prolonged social distancing precautions can make a difference. Here are five ways you can help support older adults during the pandemic:
1. Schedule virtual friends and family visits
Facetime, Skype calls, or other virtual visits that you share can prove invaluable to your older loved one. Consider setting up scheduled days and times to connect so the visits don’t fall through the cracks, and so seniors have something to look forward to during the pandemic. If you need help with technology, ask a teenager. They can likely help you get set up easily on one of these platforms.
Consider streaming a concert, movie, sports event, parade or religious service to watch simultaneously with others. Host a group call afterwards to discuss.
Play an online game with family or friends. Get a little friendly competition going by playing with two or a group, from wherever they are.
2. Be neighborly.
If you’re making a trip to the grocery store, offer to pick up some things for an elderly neighbor. Or, consider sending over a meal. Say hello from a safe distance when delivering it to their porch or driveway, or add a short note.
3. Encourage television for more than news.
Psychologists recommend thatalladults should seek balance in the time spent watching news with other quality television programs. Premium cable and network channels offer classic movies and shows with storylines that can be uplifting. Suggest that your elderly relative or friend limit the time they spend watching the news and instead offer some alternatives that you can both watch and discuss later.
4. Write a letter or create an art project
Care packages and letters do wonders. Small tokens, printed photos, even art projects from a grandchild are wonderful gifts for seniors and constant sources of reassurance that you are thinking of them and they are remembered by their loved ones.
5. Make a call
Reach out to those you care about regularly with a phone call. It sounds simple, but that act alone is a great way to stay connected and keep a senior’s spirits lifted.
Yes, social distancing is lasting longer than most of us had ever imagined. And, with older adults disproportionately affected by the medical effects of COVID-19, seniors are more likely to continue to maintain their distance from others, even while the rest of us may slowly return to the “new normal”. Supporting our aging loved ones in some of these small ways can make a world of difference in their health and happiness during this challenging time for all of us.