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Building Elders Defenses Against the COVID “Lonelys”

Today’s social scientists and healthcare providers call it social isolation. Older folks call it just plain lonely. But whatever terms you use, spending days or weeks on end with little meaningful interaction with others or with the world outside one’s own four walls has disproportionately afflicted people age 65 and up in our society. And the current pandemic has made a bad situation worse.

Physical distancing guidelines are, of course, essential, especially for seniors. But as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the National Institute on Aging, and other organizations have underscored, the resulting isolation significantly increases elders’ risk of everything from depression and anxiety to heart disease, high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s disease and even death.

The good news is, there’s plenty we all can do to help “inoculate” the older people we love against the ravages of chronic loneliness. Experts recommend making sure the senior in your life has at least these three things in place:

Alternative Ways to Socialize

Set them up with the technology they need for virtual visits with family and friends—and, if necessary, show them how to use it. Consider “Zooming” at the same time every week, or just checking in by phone at the same time every day, to give your loved one the added benefit of having something to look forward to. You can also help them find other safe ways to socialize online, like secure chatrooms, private Facebook groups, and internet game clubs.

Physical Activity

Nothing boosts a person’s mood like a little exercise. Encourage Mom or Dad to get outdoors every day, weather permitting, for a walk—even if it’s only to the corner stop sign and back. Help them find an appropriate fitness or stretching class online (YouTube has zillions). Or suggest they get up and dance a few times each day to whatever music they love.

Something to Think About

When it comes to keeping loneliness at bay, an active brain is almost as important as an active body. Mental stimulation can be as straightforward as reading a book or working a puzzle, or more ambitious, like learning a new language online. Explore options that match your family member’s interests, and do your best to get him or her involved.

In short, while it’s true that COVID safety will likely require older folks to practice physical isolation for a while longer, the harmful effects of social isolation can, through a combination of user-friendly tech and old-school creativity, be avoided. For a fuller treatment of this subject, check out the Winter-Spring 2021 edition of Quarry Hill’s News & Views newsletter, coming to subscribers’ mailboxes—and to our website—in April. Or link to the following trusted sources:

U.S. Centers for Disease Control

National Institute on Aging