The loneliness epidemic
Remember when the term “social distancing” wasn’t even a part of the daily vernacular? Now with the global pandemic effecting almost every part of our lives, social distancing practices have become a necessity. Many people are doing their part to keep themselves and their communities healthy by staying home, and rightly so. But our well-intended best practices may have come at a cost; and the elderly have been especially impacted.
For many years research has shown that isolation among the elderly can lead to epidemic levels of loneliness and can result in serious health consequences such as cognitive decline, depression and heart disease. It’s no secret that loneliness can negatively impact people in general, but seniors are at a higher risk for opportunistic virus’s and so they’ve had to take isolating to unprecedented levels. Seniors that live in Skilled Nursing Facilities, Senior Living Communities and even in their own homes may not have had visitors in weeks as their family members are mandated to stay away - all in a loving effort to keep their loved one safe.
Helping this vulnerable population doesn’t have to be difficult though, but it may take families, community and creativity to hold loneliness at bay.
Here are just a few ways Seniors Helping Seniors, a senior care agency in Mystic have found that may help seniors stay engaged:
Creative visiting is visiting someone while maintaining social distancing practices. For example, many people are bringing lawn chairs to their seniors’ property and sitting outdoors together, yet at least 6 feet apart. Another idea is to host a yard gathering or a driving parade past a senior’s property so that special occasions don’t get overlooked. Of course, gathering for the fun of it will help a senior feel appreciated and cared for any day of the week.
Zoom, FaceTime, Marco Polo and Skype are not just for the tech savvy any longer. These virtual gathering platforms are easy to use and have gained notable popularity even with the elderly as a way to stay connected. The market is ripe for senior technology as tablets such as GrandPad, Facebook's Portal, and Claris Companion are becoming hugely popular and make connecting easy for any generation.
Seniors that reside at senior living communities don’t have to be left out. Most facilities make tablets available to residents and these tablets can come complete with tech savvy staff who are happy to help them get connected.
When visiting isn’t possible, set a regular time, when you aren’t rushed or distracted to call your senior. When in conversation, be attentive and engaged, ask questions and show sincere interest. Another idea is to enlist others to help make contact with your senior. This is a great way to get friends and family involved and maximize the care impact. Keep in mind seniors have a lifetime of experience to share. You might even learn something about them you didn’t know.
A few other helpful suggestions could be to ensemble themed care packages or baskets that you can drop off while maintaining a safe and healthy distance. For the creative senior you may include puzzles, adult coloring books or even paint by numbers. All very trendy activities that are not just for kids anymore. How about a basket with all the ingredients to make your senior’s favorite cookie? Take it one step further and FaceTime together with your senior so you can enjoy a virtual bake off.
Host a virtual book club, send a letter or play Friends with Words or Trivia. Creativity holds no limits.
Lastly many communities have begun various outreach efforts specifically for the senior population. People want to help and may offer to bring meals, groceries, help with home repairs or simply sit in a lawn chair and spend time with a senior neighbor. Check platforms such as FaceBook, Pinterest, your local senior center or human services as well as agencies such as Seniors Helping Seniors to find out other creative ways to help seniors in your community.
Together we can help seniors not only stay healthy and COVID free, but also avoid unintended consequences from social isolation.