We see the stories everyday. They have been in the news since the first week the novel corona virus hit the US. Seniors, who were already vulnerable and largely alone, are now even more so. Grandparents who get so much joy from visiting with grandchildren are no longer allowed to. Socialization with friends at dinners or meal times in facilities have been stopped. No-one is allowed in facilities to visit. We ask our grandparents to remain home and only leave when absolutely necessary. Physical distancing is such an important step in helping to control the spread of Covid 19. But one of the effects of social distancing is that it is causing isolation and loneliness. Our senior loved ones are incredibly vulnerable as many were already experiencing limited contact with others. Removing all contact is being met with a serious secondary side effect from the novel corona virus, which is depression.
Our seniors are a largely diverse group. There are many that live full, active, involved lives. However, they are still considered high risk given how the corona virus operates. So while many younger people maybe getting back to an active life, this group of once active seniors are still being asked to isolate given the risk level. Social isolation and loneliness are not mutually exclusive. One can be socially isolated but have the parameters in place to feel as if they are still connected. This can be done largely in part though technology. Unfortunately less than 34 percent of our seniors use technology to connect. Therefore experiencing social isolation, coupled with loneliness can lead to depression. It is also important to note that the lack of stimulation that our seniors receive, whether physical or mental from engaging with others, serves to further complicate the issue of depression. Our bodies enter into a stress response that can be triggered by loneliness, or lack of engagement. This stress response can in fact lower immunity. Which further puts our loved ones at risk.
So what can we do? Encouraging safe daily interaction is so important. Helping your senior loved one to know that this is a temporary situation. Safe interaction can include face time calls with loved ones, zoom calls, sending sanitized care packages with some of their favorite things, writing weekly letters, teaching them how to set up a social media account so they may stay connected through pictures. Having a set time to call everyday may help to provide a sense of comfort as well as normalcy. We also want to make sure that we are asking our seniors how they are doing. How are they feeling? Are they feeling overwhelmed? Are they feeling scared? And encourage them to talk about those feelings. Having a safe outlet in which they can discuss what they are experiencing will be helpful in alleviating the feeling of being alone. Most importantly we can not forget about our older loved ones and their experience. We can see a much stronger bond fostered between our generations by finding new ways to connect throughout the pandemic, and after.