As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, we’ve been told to stay inside and socially isolate. While these instructions are critical to everyone’s well-being, they are especially important for older adults.
Yet, social isolation – being physically separate from those around us – is already a difficult reality for many older adults and can seriously impact their mental and physical health. In fact, even prior to public health officials instructing everyone to stay home, about a quarter of people over 65 living independently in their communities were considered socially isolated, and 43 percent of those over 60 reported feeling lonely. To compound the issue, individuals who feel socially isolated have higher rates of heart disease, obesity, weakened immunity, Alzheimer’s disease, high blood pressure, and depression.
Alternatively, engaging in meaningful social activities can have the opposite effect on health, helping people improve cognitive function, boost happiness levels, protect against disease, increase longevity, and provide meaning to their lives.
Giving the importance of social connectedness, how do we ensure our older loved ones are protected from long-term social isolation as COVID-19 continues to progress?
Fortunately, there are ways that each one of us can step up and buffer the effects of loneliness. After all, caring for the aging population is our shared responsibility and we all have a part to play. Here are five ways to get started:
1. Schedule a call or video chat
If your loved one is in a nursing home or living alone in an apartment or house, try scheduling a phone call or video chat. Think about doing it at the same time each day to give them routine and something to look forward to. Resources like Facetime, Zoom, and Skype make it easy to set up a video conference with multiple family members. A phone call or video chat helps ensure that they are taking care of themselves — whether that’s taking their medications and/or receiving the proper care at a facility. If they’re interested, you can even help them set up how to stream religious services or concerts online.
Remember, for some older adults, technology can be intimidating. Be patient and send along simple instructions ahead of time. If they have a caregiver or nurse at a facility, reach out to see if they can help with setting up a video call.
2. Tap into community resources for support
Another way to break the cycle of social isolation is to reach out to community resources that provide opportunities to socialize with volunteers or even companion animals. You might be surprised by how many free resources are available, especially as a response to COVID-19.
3. Help them create a buddy system
You can help your loved one stay active in their community – even while they are physically isolated. Help them create a “buddy system” with someone in their neighborhood or with a church member. A buddy system could involve a daily phone call, sending text messages or voice messages, reading a book over the phone, exchanging letters or emails, or dropping off meals. Now is the time to start innovating new ways to stay connected.
4. Offer to drop off meals
If you live near someone at risk for social isolation, you can make a huge difference by dropping off meals, healthy snacks, or offering to shop their grocery list. Eating is inherently social, and when an aging adult feels socially isolated it can decrease their drive to cook or get the proper nutrition.
5. Spread cheer with a card
Sometimes the most touching acts of service are the simplest ones. Sending a card, photo, or note helps spread love and cheer. Plus, your loved one can hang or pin up a written card or letter as a daily reminder that you’re thinking about them.
When it comes to reducing social isolation, we can all help. If you have time on your hands, these acts of kindness can help alleviate some of the social isolation of aging adults. Plus, they will make you feel better and more connected too.
If you are still feeling overwhelmed and need further support, Theia is here to help. Learn more about how we can support your specific situation and help you tap into expert resources here.