A Tough Time for Elders
As the days get shorter and the weather cools, more elders remain indoors to stay warm and safe. The natural rhythm of daily life becomes more sedentary and often more solitary. Tending a garden with family gives way to watching TV alone. That trend is even more pronounced this year because of the health crisis that has shaped life in 2020. With COVID-19 preventing most older adults from travelling to see family, this winter will leave little opportunity for them to connect with loved ones, even around the holidays.
“We have participants who don’t speak to anyone else in their building,” says Julianne Voss, social work manager at PACE-RI. “That’s how profoundly isolated people are.”
That distance spells bad news for the health of our parents and grandparents. Studies show that greater isolation in older adults can lead to increased risk of depression, dementia, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease among other issues. Add those risks to the stress of a pandemic, and you have a dangerous situation for older adults living alone.
“Our folks have all the risk factors,” says Voss. “That’s why the day center is part of the model of care.”
While a day center like the one PACE offers can bring together familiar faces for conversation, not all people have that opportunity. Attendance has been restricted by the pandemic, putting increased strain on caregivers as well.
Addressing Social Isolation
- Keep up with your relatives
One of the most critical steps to limiting social isolation is helping elders to interact with other people from home. A weekly phone call can foster a sense of belonging and friendship. In our case, PACE-RI has set up an outreach call initiative to connect with participants on a weekly basis.
- Create projects or activities
By encouraging our older relatives to work on personal projects, we can keep them engaged and thinking creatively. The best activities are ones that can be shared remotely, such as writing poetry or playing music.
- Use video calls for group chats
Many older adults struggle with new methods of communication. But with a little instruction, these tools can facilitate a much broader conversation. Group discussions about current events or sharing personal projects are great ways to encourage new connections. These gatherings also give older adults something to look forward to on a regular basis.
As caregivers and family members, we have a responsibility to lend an ear to the isolated people in our lives. COVID-19 has forced many families to adapt to that reality in unexpected ways, and with winter on the horizon it’s more important than ever that we work to prevent social isolation. So call your older family members, arrange a Zoom call with your relatives, or organize a monthly art contest. For many older adults, it will mean a happier and healthier new year.