Help Seniors Feel More Connected During Isolation

grandmother talking to family on her laptop during coronavirus outbreak
Mental health issues seniors may experience due to this extreme reality include loneliness, anxiety, and depression.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic reared its ugly head, older adults living alone have often had to contend with reduced human contact. Now it is imperative for seniors to stay home to stay safe. But the effects of this isolation are certainly taking their toll. We’re all stuck at home right now, but here’s why it’s harder on the elderly.

Isolation & Connection

Social isolation has been shown to negatively affect behavioral health. It can 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 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 five tips for helping the older adults in your life feel less isolated:

Do You or a Loved One Have Symptoms?

Having symptoms? Call your primary care provider. If you don’t have one, find one near you.

If your symptoms are severe, call this number before coming to the emergency department: 434.98.COVID (982-6843).

Think you have COVID-19? Check your symptoms.

Connect in any way possible

The way seniors respond to being socially isolated often depends on their level of sophistication with technology. Video conferencing is one of the best ways to feel connected right now. 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 too.

Create a schedule

Having a routine and something to look forward to helps reduce feelings of loneliness. 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). Drive by and 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 enjoy activities

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 audiobooks are other ways to pass the time enjoyably.

UVA Health’s Response

See how UVA is addressing coronavirus.

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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