Updated: May 28, 2020
Though social interactions have always been a critical part of our health and well-being, people are starting to realize this now more than ever as they practice social distancing. Without the ability to eat dinner at a friend’s house, visit loved ones, or attend family gatherings, it can feel like our interpersonal connections with others are slipping away. Unfortunately, many seniors have already been experiencing the negative effects of isolation for a variety of reasons, from longtime friends passing away to a limited ability to leave the house due to aging or illness.
“Over the years in my career, I’ve realized that a lot of people's healthcare issues are related to isolation," says VNA volunteer and retired registered nurse, David. "Nobody keeps an eye on them, they don't do what they used to, they don't exercise or eat right, and their socialization skills are just going to waste.”
Despite the current circumstances everyone is now facing, there are still ways to foster social connections through other means. Here are some ideas to try:
Many are aware of the ways a phone call from a friend or loved one can brighten a day, but it’s easy to get distracted and forget to reach out to the people who are important to us. David says that some of the seniors he has visited in the past have revealed that they feel forgotten about or they are reluctant to call loved ones because they think they’re too busy. “In an effort to get them away from being very introspective and leading them to be more proactive, I ask them who they’ve called today. Eventually, I want them to think, ‘hey, I can call my neighbor,’ or ‘why don’t I give this person a call,” says David. Give a senior you know a call, even just to say “hello” and encourage them to give you a call from time to time. If you’re able, create a system with a senior’s other loved ones to rotate regular phone calls to check-in.
One of the many benefits of technology is that it allows us to connect with loved ones, near and far. There’s nothing that can replace an in-person visit from family or friends, but it can mean the world just to see their faces. With video chatting family visits can become virtual until the social distancing period is over. Fortunately, laptops, computers, and most phones are compatible with different video chatting app downloads. There are many guides online- like this one - that walk seniors through the video chatting process.
Writing letters is largely a forgotten method of communication, but it’s often regarded as the most fulfilling. What’s more, is that seniors are already familiar with this form of communication and can highly benefit from the cognitive stimulation this activity brings. Not only is the act of handwriting letters personalized, but receiving a letter in the mail from a loved one is exciting no matter how old you are. Exchange letters, photos, crafts or other mementos in the mail with a senior you care about.
These are just a few ideas to help keep seniors engaged and cognitively stimulated, despite being physically isolated.
Though our Visit-A-Bit program has temporarily stopped in-person visits, potential volunteers are still encouraged to sign up to give seniors a friendly phone call. Learn more.