Since 2020, most countries focused on keeping their populations safe from COVID-19. This entailed worldwide quarantines and mandatory self-isolation of seniors. While we focused on physical health, another, equally important aspect of health was ignored—mental health.
While younger adults have access to the Internet where they find articles about coping methods and find support for the stress and anxiety brought about by the pandemic, seniors rarely have the same luxury. For seniors, majority of their social contact is outside of home, or when people visit them in their home. So, the year-long self-isolation they have been forced into has a heavy impact on their social life, and therefore, their mental health. As a result, most seniors are not only physically alone, they are also isolated. Isolation and loneliness are a major issue among seniors. This is why it is most important now, more than ever, that we help seniors maintain their social connections.
The Value Of Social Connection For Seniors
Social connections are important for everyone’s wellbeing, regardless of their age. Isolation and loneliness have been found to be strongly linked with cardiovascular, autoimmune, neurocognitive, and mental health problems, according to The Lancet Public Health. A negative mental health status has an adverse effect on the overall health of seniors.
The past year has left seniors in a fragile situation. Not being able to go to their usual social circles and activities or accept visitors in their homes means that seniors rarely have anyone to talk with. In addition to social isolation, seniors who live alone may find themselves experiencing anxiety or trauma due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If they are unable to talk about their anxieties and concerns, seniors may not be able to process their experiences adequately. This could aggravate their mental health status, and indirectly affect their physical health as well. Thus, maintaining the senior population’s social connections is even more important now than ever.
Maintaining Social Connections
Maintaining social connections on its own is a challenge among seniors. Even without the context of the pandemic, seniors have had difficulty maintaining social circles due to increased frailty and disabilities, as well as various environmental barriers. Now, they have been barred from going out, quite literally. How can we help the elderly maintain social connections?
1 – Get Them Online
Technology, obviously, is the most convenient way to help seniors get connected with the outside world. Seniors have a lot to gain by learning to use technology, and that includes social connection. Get seniors connected to the Internet and teach them to the basics to operate a computer, a tablet, or a phone. This way they can participate in family Zoom calls or start a Zoom call with their friends or neighbors, as well as chat and virtually socialize with their groups.
2 – Call Them!
If going online is not an option, something as simple as phoning seniors would make a big difference. Talk about your day and ask them about theirs. It would also be a good idea to discuss current events with seniors. Ask them about their thoughts so that they can vent out their concerns and anxieties. While they are no substitute to a hug and a face-to-face conversation, meaningful conversations over the phone have a positive impact on seniors’ mental health.
3 – Drop Off Little Gifts
For families who live near their elderly parents or grandparents, taking the time to give them something special would be helpful. These could be something simple such as a book or newspaper, or a card or letter you or your kids wrote. These things will help combat feelings of isolation and loneliness in seniors.
While seniors remain confined in their homes, it is everyone else’s duty to be intentional about maintaining social connections with them. Seniors cannot fight isolation and loneliness alone—someone has to be there for them, too.
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