High Cost of Social Isolation for the Elderly

Elder isolation increases during cold winter months, which has been exacerbated by  Covid-caused visitation restrictions. Image, Kate Burke.

[San Juan Silver Stage | November 2020 | By Eva Veitch, Region 10 Community Living Services Program Director]

Human beings are social creatures; our human connections help us survive and thrive. COVID-19 and the social distancing that has been put in place to protect us have had a huge unintended consequence, hitting the elderly especially hard. According to the National Institute on Aging; some of the potential health impacts of isolation are high blood pressure, heart disease, weakened immune systems, depression, and cognitive decline. Facility staff members have seen drastic changes in the functional and cognitive ability of many long-term care residents during the pandemic, when residents have not been allowed family visits or socialization within the facility for meals and activities.

Connect

Connection to others is what keeps us all going in good times and bad; isolation leaves us emotionally and physically vulnerable. We know this but what can we do about it? People who engage in meaningful and productive activities with others tend to live longer, have better overall mood, cognitive function, and an improved sense of purpose. We can all get involved in improving the lives of the older adults in our communities. Get the whole family involved, get your church and civic groups onboard, your schools and daycares, get creative and get busy!

Offer to Help

Neighbors or extended families can start a calling tree to the older adults in your area, check in with these folks frequently, shovel their sidewalks, rake their leaves, take them home-cooked meals, have your kids make handmade cards. If grandparents have smartphones or tablets, encourage them to play computer games with the kids so they stay connected. Take a trip to the $ store and put together activity bags for the nursing home in your neighborhood, large print word games, warm socks, adult coloring books, and blank cards they can write to other residents—things to fiddle with help pass the time.

Visit a resident in a facility.

No, you aren’t allowed in, because of Covid, but you can visit through glass. As long as it’s warm enough, take time for a ‘window visit.’ (Or if it isn’t, bundle up and go anyway.) They are inside, with a house phone or their mobile. You are outside, nose to the glass, with your own mobile. Staff is glad to help facilitate this.  You can still do face-to-face visits, but separated by window glass.

“We shared our Sunday supper through the (dirty) window at a resident facility. I cooked, delivered hers, and ate mine with her—on the other side of the window. We visited by cell phone. Not ideal, but it works.” Kate Burke.

Help Alleviate Isolation

Things you can do and encourage the elders in your life to do, too. And remember, you don’t always have to “be” together to “do” things together.

Exercise,no matter how simple: stretching, breathing, seated. There are televised exercise programs where people can follow along at their own pace. If the local senior center is open, or a facility offering something like Silver Sneaker,s encourage your senior friends to participate.

Spread positivity: stay upbeat. focus on the positive, send uplifting notes on a regular basis. Getting personal mail is a big deal when you are lonely.

Help with spiritual life work: pray together over the phone,  do phone bible-study, offer a daily devotion call. A 3-minute call could make a huge difference to a lonely person.

Connect: stay in touch with friends and family far away and close by (even within facilities). Email, write letters, make phone calls, send texts.

Help elders in residential, assisted living, or nursing facilities to connect: Encourage them to support each other with internal pen-pal groups.

Be an advocate: Elders with memory loss, speech or cognitive impairment may have difficulty articulating what they want and need. Take time to listen, interpret if needed, and share their concerns with staff (if in a facility) or others who may be able to offer companionship.

Give gifts to those in facilities: with the holidays approaching consider a gift that will bring smiles and comfort. Large piece puzzles, are always a hit and check out www.joyforall.com robotic pets are a beautiful gift for those with cognitive issues.

Share that you care

Your aging friends and relatives don’t need more sweaters; they need your love and attention. If you wait for COVID to end it may be too late! Just BE there for them.

If you need ideas call me and we can brainstorm together.

Eva Veitch (970-765-3127)