During this time of social distancing, we are all getting a reality check on how seniors might feel when they are isolated. If you’re anything like the family members in my household, at any given moment you might be bored, irritated, ready to take a nap, still in your pajamas, constantly eating comfort foods, lacking a routine and feel stuck in a rut. Can you relate? For some seniors, this is their life, not just now but every day.
Feeling isolated affects mental and physical well-being. The geriatric population is especially vulnerable, more so than other age groups, due to their delicate medical situations and multiple chronic conditions.
According to the National Institute on Aging, “Social isolation and loneliness are linked to increased risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, weakened immune system, anxiety, depression and cognitive decline.”
What folks need for their well-being is positive daily interactions.
One easy way to connect with a loved one is an old-fashioned phone call. The sound of a familiar voice will be welcomed and appreciated. To keep the conversation engaging, consider asking your loved one to share a family story or memory from their childhood. If appropriate, read them a newspaper or magazine article. Even singing together on the phone can be a fun and memorable experience. At the end of the call be sure to mention when you’ll be calling again. It will give them something to look forward to.
For isolated seniors who may not have loved ones to connect and call them, the AARP can help. The AARP offers a free program called Friendly Voices through their Community Connections program. Friendly Voices are trained AARP volunteers who will provide a call to say hello. Enroll through their website at https://aarpcommunityconnections.org/friendly-voices/ or call 888-281-0145 weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Re-occurring calls can be scheduled, too.
Another tried-and-true method to connect is through the mail. Mail a letter or greeting card. Consider enclosing an old photo, a magazine article, a cartoon or a comical picture you know they will enjoy. Scratch-off lottery tickets are a welcome surprise to include too! Even a page colored by a grandchild or great-grandchild will be appreciated. Mail items as often as feasible. Ask friends, family and neighbors to join in by sharing your loved one’s address with them. The constant flow of mail will be a highlight to their day.
Consider mailing an occasional care package in a large envelope or box. Mailed items could include playing cards, an adult coloring book, a magazine, pocket sized tissues, posters or notions that remind them of their interests and hobbies.
For seniors with the capability to engage on social media and electronic devices, there are many options. A Facetime or Skype conversation makes your call more personal since they can see your face (and as a bonus, you can include your pet). There are also applications like Zoom and Houseparty that allow video conferencing with multiple callers at once.
Get creative with technology. Consider sharing a “virtual” meal together, playing “virtual” bingo or “virtually” watching a favorite movie or TV show. “Virtual” exercise is an interactive option, too. These activities will provide engagement and conversation points.
Creating a sense of connection takes a little time and creativity. Always be on the lookout for a reason to connect and celebrate. Google “National Day Calendar” for a comprehensive list of reasons to celebrate every single calendar day!
Continue to encourage your loved ones to maintain a routine, exercise daily or go for a walk, eat as healthy as possible and hydrate. Positive interactions will influence your loved ones' well-being and give them a mood boost, which is so important during times like these.