The coronavirus pandemic has presented many challenges for older adults. In addition to fearing for their physical health due to their vulnerability to the virus, many seniors have had to contend with the mentally and emotionally challenging aspects of being isolated from their friends and family.
Even before the Covid-19 outbreak, loneliness has been an issue prevalent in the elderly population. In the U.S., approximately 28% of older adults, or 13.8 million people, live alone. In the UK, over half of people aged over 75 live alone – and 3.9 million say the television is their main source of companionship. Covid-19 has only compounded the problem even further.
Social Isolation and Loneliness Have Health Implications
Research has shown that loneliness can have a direct impact on an older adult’s cognitive and physical health. Also, seniors who are more social are at decreased risk of developing conditions like Alzheimer’s, heart disease and several cancers.
So what’s the solution? Ordinarily, without the threat of COVID-19, there would be a wider range of options. Social clubs and activities in the local community are a great way for lonely older adults to meet others who may be in a similar situation. Although many state restrictions are currently easing, it looks like older adults will still have to limit social contact for a good while longer. In this environment, other solutions need to be considered. Read on to find out about ways to combat loneliness in older adulthood during these troubling times.
Video Calling as a Social Tool During Covid-19
There is, of course, no substitute for real human contact, but in the modern digital age it’s easier to stay in touch than ever before. Although it can be difficult for many older adults to know where to start, video calling can be a fantastic way to combat loneliness.
Seeing another person’s face on the screen, rather than just their voice, is a powerful way to connect. Much of the emotion and joy of human communication lies in face-to-face contact, and so video calling is the best technological antidote to loneliness that’s currently available.
According to an interview with UCHealth nurse practitioner Peggy Budai, “Social isolation can be especially hard on the mental and physical health of older adults. But research also shows that video chatting can reduce the risk of depression in this population.”
This is backed by research in the UK that states 76.9% of those surveyed have a remote communication with friends and family. It is said to aid seniors to cope while staying safe at home.
There are numerous apps that seniors could use for video calling if you have a smartphone, tablet, or computer – so many, in fact, that it can be overwhelming. FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, Skype, and Zoom are all good options, but to make things easier it may be best to choose one platform and stick to it. If you’re video calling on an iPad or iPhone, for example, it may be easiest to use Apple’s native FaceTime app. If you have an Android phone or tablet, Google has their own equivalent video calling apps such as Google Duo or Hangouts. But if you’re using a computer, Skype or Zoom may be your best bet.
There is little difference between what services these various video calling apps offer, so the main determinant should be personal preference. Here’s a video calling guide to help those who are new to the technology get started.
Support Networks Can Help Combat Isolation
Unfortunately, many older adults may not have a support network of friends and family around them, and may not have the option of video calling someone to help combat isolation.
Although it may be a technological hurdle for some, social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram can be a great source of support for those who can’t see friends or loved ones in person. Local groups exist in many areas, where users can make friends and access support if they need it.
Utilize Local Resources
Loneliness in older adults is a crucially important issue, and on the rise due to restrictions from Covid-19. It’s important for older adults to know that outside help is available. If you need help obtaining supplies or locating services during this time, here are some options:
- Helplines like the Alzheimer’s Association’s (800-272-3900) can help to put you in touch with the resources in your local area.
- Community support groups have popped up and many can be found online on Facebook. Similarly, many organizations that were holding support groups in person have now moved to offering them virtually via Zoom or Skype.
- Several supermarkets and grocers allow seniors to order over the phone or online.
- Virtual Memory Cafes are offered for seniors and their caregivers.