Because of COVID-19, the last 14 months have been difficult and challenging for many people. Outside of the medical challenges that seniors have faced, loneliness has become one of the most formidable foes seen in recent years. As we enter the re-opening phase, we’ll need to stay careful about socialization, while fighting off loneliness.
How Loneliness is Damaging
Prior to 2019, there was already an epidemic of isolation and loneliness amongst the senior population of the United States. Seniors have now faced even more isolation recently than in the past. Social isolation can lead to depression, impact cognitive health and has been shown to potentially impact immunodeficiencies, heart issues, weight management and many other physical conditions. Isolation and loneliness have been linked to higher risks of mortality in our older population.
How Can we Fight off Loneliness?
Virtual Socializing. Zoom, FaceTime, WhatApp and other programs have allowed us to stay connected virtually to those we love. If you or your loved one isn’t sure how to use these programs, there is likely a younger person in the family that would be more than happy to show you. Schedule regular times for conversations or even meals together virtually. These programs can give social purpose, such as getting ready (dressed and presentable) for interaction with others.
Socializing virtually isn’t just video calling with your loved ones. It can be used for other social interactions. A program called Sling can be used to watch television online with family members not in the home. Imagine watching cartoons with your grandchildren, while they’re in their own home!
Interaction on Facebook inside of Groups (that are chosen according to hobbies, social causes and much more), allows for discourse and thought sharing on similar like and dislikes. Discussing shared interests also promotes and strengthens an affinity between people that can stave off loneliness. There are currently over 620 million Facebook Groups that include hobbies and topics such as museums, birdwatching, language studies, National Geographic, music and instruments (of all types!) and so many more. General categories include Humor, Health, Parenting, Local, Science and Tech, Travel, Hobbies and Interest, Animals, Education, Art, Faith and Spirituality and more.
Advanced virtual socializing can even include things like gaming online. Adults from the ages of 50 – 65 are the first generation of true video gamers. Whether you have a console or play on your computer, there are numerous games that have chat functions. Click this link for a good starter list.
Maintain or Increase Physical Activity. While it is spring in many parts of the United States, here in Florida, the weather is pleasant year-round. Walking outdoors allows for the feeling of being social, while boosting mood and supporting better overall physical and mental health. There are also opportunities for outdoor fitness classes, such as Tai Chi or Yoga, where social distancing can be practiced. Being outdoors also allows for social distancing that may include in-person visits (following the continued 6 ft. distancing guideline).
Have a CareGiver in the Home. If there is a need for assistance with the activities of daily living, having a caregiver in the home is an efficient way for a homebound senior to have a regular social interaction and consistent relationship with someone from outside the home. These relationships have a strong purpose and increase overall wellbeing. A consistent caregiver provides stability, interaction and many interpersonal skills as well as providing critical care for our older generation.
Ability to Identify Loneliness or Isolation. If you have a loved one who may be struggling with isolation and loneliness, reach out to their healthcare provider, in-home caregiver or other family members to discuss better options to increase their care and social interaction.