In these unprecedented times, many senior living directors have had to take steps to protect their residents from the spread of the virus. In some cases, it’s been necessary to restrict visitors to the property to reduce the chances of COVID-19 being inadvertently introduced into an at-risk community.
Although limited contact with the outside world may help to keep the virus at bay and the residents safe, another concern is moving to the spotlight – that of social isolation and what it means for the elderly.
Warding Off Social Isolation For The Elderly
Even outside of a pandemic, loneliness and social isolation are major risk factors that may contribute to the deteriorating mental, emotional, and physical health of seniors. According to the National Institute on Aging, there is research linking social isolation and loneliness in seniors to higher risks of high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, anxiety, depression, a weakened immune system, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s, and even possibly death.
Homes manage this by setting a regular routine around daily activities to provide a sense of stability and comfort. Through this routine, seniors can thrive on consistent care and emotional support. A scheduled day with everyday activities such as eating, sleeping, social time, exercising, therapy, volunteering, cleaning, and seeing family and friends can provide our much-loved elders with a sense of purpose.
Regrettably, the lockdown has disrupted these routines, limiting the contact seniors can have with their loved ones, with medical personnel, with community employees, as well as with one another. This enforced social distancing can lead to feelings of social isolation and compound loneliness in seniors.
But, thanks to inventive senior living activities directors and technology, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Activities and social time are taking new forms to promote connections between residents and the outside world.
Within the community, as long as residents are being screened daily, are limiting contact with outside visitors, and employees are being screened on entry, social distancing and sanitization should enable residents to keep up modified versions of social interactions in-house. Of course, extra care must be taken to ensure sanitary standards are high, and activities that allow ample social distancing should be absolute requisite.
However, the lack of family visits may mean residents have extra time available left to pass in their day, and this is where the pandemic can hit the hardest. With the help of technology and staff, face time with loved ones can still be scheduled into the day to avoid isolation.
The Role of Technology In Preventing Isolation
Throughout the pandemic, technology has been an enabler. It has enabled families to connect virtually under lockdown, as well as businesses to keep operating through online communication channels. It has connected shoppers with their grocery and other deliveries, and continued to provide exercise and education respite to those who want it. Who hasn’t tried a new recipe during lockdown?
In the context of senior living and preventing isolation, it can connect residents with their families outside, as well as provide entertainment and education when face to face human interaction is restricted. This is, of course, vital for mental stimulation and providing a sense of purpose.
Video Calls With Outside Family or Friends
For seniors missing out on in-person face time, platforms such as Zoom, Google Meet, or even WhatsApp can provide great emotional and mental nourishment. There’s little better than seeing and hearing the people you love when times are uncertain or difficult. More so because this can still be done over a cup of coffee or lunch, even behind a computer screen.
There is a certain therapeutic element in writing letters. It allows the writer to express their feelings and really share what’s happening in their life. As letter-writing was more prominent in days gone by, seniors will likely welcome the idea of writing an email to their loved ones. There’s excitement in receiving a response too, and this can contribute to their sense of purpose.
Whether it’s cooking, yoga, a new language, or poetry recital, the internet has a plethora of information to keep seniors entertained and engaged. Find out what they are interested in and set a daily viewing time for them to expand their horizons with a brand new YouTube tutorial that is both engaging and entertaining.
Keep a Positive Outlook When Overcoming Challenges
For the most part, navigating COVID-19 in a senior living community means keeping a steady focus on hygiene and safety while balancing the needs of the residents. Understanding how to overcome and assist seniors mentally and emotionally, as well as keep them engaged with new means of connecting to the outside world, can help the elderly handle feelings of social isolation.