Preventing Social Isolation of Older Adults in a Time of Social Distancing: COVID-19 Edition

Liz Dreifuss, AgingEmpowered Intern

There is no denying that the ever-changing events of COVID-19 have drastically impacted day-to-day routines for all ages. While many statewide stay- at- home orders are established, it is especially important for older adults to, in fact, stay home and social distance, as they are particularly vulnerable to this illness. This recommendation implies more than avoiding social gatherings and running errands; older adults must maintain a distance from family and friends as well. So where is the good news? Being apart from each other does not have to mean being isolated. This blog highlights some of the negative outcomes of social isolation, but also strategies to avoid it as we move through COVID-19!

Social distancing affects people differently depending on if they live in senior living or in the community. Senior Living Organizations (nursing homes and assisted living centers) have been advised by the federal government not to allow any visitors, except to those who are at the end of life.  Meanwhile, people living in the community are advised not to leave their homes or to have visitors but have the freedom to decide how they will proceed with the recommendations.

While these measures are to keep all individuals healthy and safe, social distancing can lead to feeling socially isolated and may have negative outcomes on older adults’ well-being. In fact, research finds those who feel loneliness are at higher risk for depression, psychological functioning, and a weakened immune system (1). However, the good news is that practicing any kind of social connection can diffuse feelings of loneliness, and yes, virtual connection counts (2)! 

 It is more important than ever to reach out and stay connected to family members, friends, and those in your community.  Here are some simple ways to stay connected to those you love! 

  • Daily Check-ins

-Create a rotation of family or friends to have a daily check-in phone call.

  • Errand Help

-Leave freezer meals at the door, offer to run errands or help with a grocery delivery service.

  • Snail Mail

-Many older adults may not have access to a smartphone or find ease in using one. Sending letters and pictures through the mail is a fun way to stay connected!

  • Neighbors

-Create a system with those in the neighborhood. Something as simple as opening and closing your blinds daily can be an easy way to check-in with those in the neighborhood!

  • Technology

-If there is access to a computer, tablet, or smartphone, video chatting and/or sending videos is a great way to stay connected! 

Remember, friends. We may be apart physically, but we can still be together emotionally. 

  1. Cacioppo, J. T., & Hawkley, L. C. (2009). Perceived social isolation and cognition. Trends Cogn Sci.13(10):447-54.
  2. Newman, M., & Zainal, N. (2020). The value of maintaining social connections for mental health in older people. Lancet Public Health. 5:e12–e13.

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