Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, older adults living alone have often had to contend with reduced human contact and the issues that arise due to this reality, including loneliness, anxiety and depression. Now that it is imperative for seniors to stay home to stay safe, the effects of this isolation are certainly taking their toll.
Social isolation has been shown to negatively affect behavioral health, may lead to the development of physical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, stroke and obesity, and has even been linked to earlier mortality. A 2015 analysis of seventy studies involving more than 3.4 million people found that people who feel socially isolated or live alone have about a 30% higher risk of early death.
So although it's now considered an act of love to avoid seeing older relatives, it's equally important that you find ways to stay socially connected to them even while you keep your physical distance.
Here are 5 tips for helping the older adults in your life feel less isolated:
- Connect in any way possible. The way seniors respond to being socially isolated often depends on their level of sophistication with technology, since video conferencing is one of the best ways to feel connected. If your family member is able to FaceTime or use programs like Zoom or Skype, use them. If this technology is beyond their abilities, a phone call will do.
- Create a schedule. Having a routine and something to look forward to helps reduce feelings of loneliness, so set up a daily time to chat or have various family members check in on different days or times to see how they're doing.
- Get creative in showing you care. You may not be able to visit older relatives in person but you can talk to them through a door (staying 6 feet apart), have kids sing songs or draw pictures outside, or leave stickers on the window to remind them you're thinking of them. If possible, deliver food and other essential items to their home. Anything that provides a reminder of how much you care will help seniors feel less lonely.
- Encourage them to get involved in activities they enjoy. If they have hobbies like knitting or crocheting, bring them the supplies to start a new project. Adult coloring books, jigsaw puzzles, looking through old photo albums or listening to audio books are other ways to pass the time enjoyably.
- Help them embrace letter-writing. Many seniors still enjoy old-fashioned snail mail. Not only will you boost their spirits by sending them cards, notes and letters but if you leave them with the tools to do their own writing, such as stationery and stamps, it'll give them a means to connect with others in a comforting way as well.
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Date Last Reviewed: April 7, 2020
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Mimi Guarneri, MD