Get creative to counteract the restrictions of COVID-19 on your social interactions
- Social distancing restrictions from COVID-19 are increasing loneliness for many older adults.
- Online interactions can help minimize feelings of sadness, loss and depression.
- Build a virtual support community to expand your social network and sense of connection to others.
[3 MIN READ]
Are sleepovers at Grandma’s house and storytime with Grandpa just a fond memory? Has your weekly poker game or girls’ night out been replaced with Zoom calls and Facetime? Are you missing the interactions with your church group? Is a “No Visitors” policy keeping you from someone you love? Although it may feel otherwise, you are not alone.
If you’re in the 65-plus age group, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has probably changed how you interact with the people you care about. Social distancing and self-quarantine may be limiting your exposure to infection. But if you're like millions of people nationwide, it’s also limiting your social interactions and increasing your loneliness and feelings of isolation.
The end result is a real health concern. According to a nationwide study, even before the pandemic hit, an estimated 25% of adults over 65 were socially isolated. But now that number is likely much higher with stay-at-home orders.
Watching friends and family reconnect and enjoy each other’s company while you remain sidelined at home can increase your feelings of loneliness if you can’t join in.
Even as states begin to reopen, you may need to remain quarantined to safeguard your health or the health of someone you live with. Watching friends and family reconnect and enjoy each other’s company while you remain sidelined at home can increase your feelings of loneliness if you can’t join in.
The risk to your well-being can be difficult to measure. Taking steps to stay connected—even if your interactions are all online—can help minimize the effects on your health.
Health risks of loneliness
Loneliness and isolation can lead to serious health challenges if left unresolved. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they can cause:
Increased rates of anxiety, suicide and depression
- Four times the risk of premature death
- 50% increase in dementia
- 29% increase in heart disease
- 32% increase in stroke
Restrictions brought on by the pandemic make it more difficult to stay connected, but the difference it can make in your overall well-being makes it well worth the effort.
Embrace the challenge
Virtual contact may not replace a hug or holding a small hand in yours, but it can help you stay in touch with your loved ones while protecting your health and theirs. A simple phone call lets you talk to the people you care about even though you’re apart. Facetime allows you to see their faces and surroundings while you chat. Add Zoom to the mix and you can get the whole family involved.
Virtual contact may not replace a hug or holding a small hand in yours, but it can help you stay in touch with your loved ones while protecting your health and theirs.
Embrace the technology that’s available and expand your opportunities to remain an active participant in the lives of the people close to you—even when you can’t be together. And keep in mind, this won’t be forever.
Distance without isolation
Social isolation doesn’t have to lead to loneliness if you take steps to stay connected to the people you care about. If your circle of family or friends is limited, a virtual community of support can give you the companionship and interaction you’re looking for.
Here are a few suggestions to help you get started:
The Connect2Affect program from AARP offers self-assessments and information on a variety of ways to reduce isolation and loneliness.
Make some art with the Unlonely Project and its Stuck at Home initiative that lets you view others' masterpieces or share your own.
Become a digital volunteer with the Smithsonian Institute and help expand access to their collections and participate in a variety of online research programs.
Nearly 1 million virtual volunteers are needed to fill all the opportunities listed on Volunteer Match, an online directory of virtual volunteer opportunities.
U.S. Administration on Aging Eldercare Locator is a federal public service that connects you to services and information designed to help you build a community of support.
Assistance from a Distance is a Papa, Inc. program that connects college students and older adults for assorted services ranging from help with technology to virtual companionship.
It’s important to ask for help
If you've tried different coping methods and are still feeling persistent sadness or overwhelming depression, it may be time to ask for help. Talking through your feelings and experiences with a trained professional can help you develop your coping skills and adapt to the realities of a worldwide pandemic. Many healthcare providers are offering telemedicine counseling right now, including Providence.
Find a doctor
Our mental health experts can help you cope with the loneliness and isolation that accompanies the COVID-19 pandemic. Through Providence Express Care Virtual, you can access a full range of healthcare services. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory or search for one in your area.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
About the AuthorMore Content by Providence Senior's Health Team