Adults over the age of 65 and people with underlying medical conditions are at a higher risk for developing more serious symptoms from COVID-19. The vast majority of hospitalizations, admissions to the ICU, and deaths from COVID-19 have occurred in the elderly population. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) has advised everyone, regardless of risk level, to stay home, wash hands frequently, and practice social distancing when around others.
As a result, feelings of isolation and heightened anxiety are surfacing during these long days of quarantining. This is especially true for older adults who live alone, elderly couples who can no longer visit family members, and seniors in assisted living and nursing homes. Individuals with a family member diagnosed with conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease or Parkinson’s Disease may find this time of social distancing especially difficult if they are no longer allowed to visit their loved one in her home or healthcare facility. However, it is still possible to stay connected, save your sanity, and even make a lasting difference in your community.
10 Tips for Staying Connected
First, let’s all admit that nothing beats a sweet conversation over a cup of tea in the living room or a tight squeeze from a grandchild. Since our physical interaction with others is severely limited these days, we must look to the next best things. Try these 10 tips to stay connected with the loved ones in your life.
1. Virtual Family Visits
There are dozens of opportunities to connect to your loved ones online. Try Facetime, Zoom, Skype, Facebook, or Instagram, for example. Each of these platforms provides a visual and/or audio connection to your family members. If technology feels overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be. Ask a family member or home health assistant to spend a few minutes helping you set up an account, connect your contacts, and practice logging on so you can answer and make a call. Virtual visits are especially important for seniors who are fully homebound or receiving care in a healthcare facility.
2. Socialize Online
You can also participate in social events online. Many wonderful artists and musicians are now offering live-streamed shows for free. You can watch a concert or try out a painting class or cook a new recipe alongside a professional chef. If you previously had a standing book club or bunco group, try keeping your regular meeting and join together virtually with a group chat. If that’s not possible for your group, consider participating in a free, community-based social group that’s held online.
3. Phone a Friend
Take a moment to consider your fellow older adult friends and family. Choose a few folks to check in with regularly and call them on the phone. It’s not the same as seeing someone face to face or a silly video-chat with the grandkids, but it doesn’t have to be. Empathetic listening through the phone goes a long way towards being heard and feeling connected.
4. Write It
Whether you’re a champion of Hallmark greeting cards or a thoughtful wordsmith who enjoys email and texts, writing is powerful. Most of the snail mail and emails we receive these days are bills or sales promotions or other non-personal matters. What a gift it would be for your family or friend to receive a note from you. Writing also helps you process and express your thoughts as you navigate this pandemic one day at a time.
5. Socially-Distant Visits
It may be possible to see some family and friends during this pandemic if you and your visitors are healthy. If you plan to see one another, be sure to observe strict social distancing measures and meet outside. Here are a few quick examples of how this could work:
- Wave and make funny faces with your young grandchildren through a glass door or from below the deck in the backyard. Watch and cheer for them as they blow bubbles or play ‘show and tell’ with you.
- Plan to enjoy a cup of coffee or a happy hour drink on your porch at the same time as your neighbors.
6. Volunteer From Home
Did you know that volunteering your time and talent has a significant, positive impact on your mental health? Volunteering decreases your risk for depression, provides a sense of purpose and meaning to your life, helps you stay physically and mentally active, may reduce stress levels, increases your social interaction, and can even prolong your life.
Though you shouldn’t start a new volunteer role in a public place like a hospital or food pantry, you may be surprised to learn there are several meaningful opportunities to volunteer from home. Interested in politics? History? Mentoring? Literacy? Disabilities? Whatever your interest, you’re likely to find an organization in need of your time. For example, the Smithsonian Institution has a Digital Volunteer program that invites you to transcribe historical documents. The app called Be My Eyes connects blind and low vision users with sighted volunteers for visual assistance through a live video connection. For many more opportunities, check out Points of Light, the world’s largest organization dedicated to volunteer services.
7. Talk to Someone
If you recognize feelings of isolation, anxiety, and depression emerging, reach out to a trusted family member or friend. Talk with a pastor, find a therapist, or share with another confidant. You truly do not have to stay stuck in feelings of despair and hopelessness. Ask for help – things will get better.
8. Get Outside
Spending time outdoors does wonders for your immune system and overall sense of wellbeing. Aim to get outside in the sunshine for 15-20 minutes each day. Call your friend on the porch, walk your dog around the block, or simply sit outside and enjoy the fresh air. You will notice a definite boost in your mood, which will impact your readiness to connect with family and friends.
9. Eat Right
Certain foods and supplements also support physical and mental health, which in turn helps you have the energy and desire to reach out and participate in virtual gatherings. The Mediterranean diet, rich in plant foods, olive oil, fish, poultry, beans, and grains, may lower the risk of various diseases like obesity, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. Conversely, a diet comprised of many processed foods and added sugars is associated with higher instances of anxiety and depression.
Some supplements, like Sophrosyne Brain, include natural nootropic ingredients like Bacopa monnieri that positively impact mental health. It reduces anxiety and depression and improves memory and overall mental clarity.
10. Community Help
Not sure where to look to find social connections within your community? Need more support for your mental health than what a close friend can offer? Check out the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging or Eldercare for assistance in finding senior centers and services near you. You can also find support with meal delivery services, transportation to medical appointments, and other in-home services through your local agency on aging.