Social distancing brought on by COVID-19 is taking its toll. Our expanding waistlines, endless Zoom meetings, and cabin fever are the least of our worries. Alongside the physical health concerns, we’re beginning to understand that isolation takes a mental and emotional toll as well. The Guardian terms it a “social recession,” while Vox notes a “loneliness epidemic” unfolding at the same time as the pandemic. At NewAldaya Lifescapes, we’re not about to call for an end to social distancing; we know it’s important to protect the lives of the vulnerable, including those who call our Cedar Falls senior center home. But we also hasten to remind you that isolation need not be total; we cannot afford to neglect the human connections that make life worth living.
The Importance of Connection
Humans are inherently social creatures. Times like this remind us of the many ways we’re interconnected — and what’s lost when those connections fray or break. Studies have shown that isolation and loneliness can shorten your life as badly, or worse than, smoking. The stress that results can lead to a higher risk of hormonal imbalances, inflammation, high blood pressure, cardiac troubles, stroke, and mental decline, each of which are also risk factors should an individual fall ill with COVID-19. And senior citizens are more likely than other groups to suffer from loneliness. Knowing we’re not alone has powerful implications for our emotional and physical well-being.
Ways to Stay Connected
So how do we maintain, and even strengthen, those connections when we can’t be as physically close as we’d like?
If you’re in an area where you can observe social distancing guidelines and you have plenty of masks for everyone, pick a sunny day for a nice long walk. If you’re concerned about a loved one’s exposure, online exercise classes are a good alternative, especially if you take them together.
Learn Something Together
Engaging the mind is as important as engaging the body. Many of us are using this enforced downtime to learn new skills and hobbies, and with so many classes available online or even via local cable providers, it can be a shared experience as everyone compares notes and shares progress.
Services at places of worship have been curtailed on-site, which takes a key social and spiritual focal point away for many older Americans. However, there are alternatives. Join in a virtual service, take time to pore over and discuss a different piece of scripture every week, or explore the many resources that different denominations and faith communities have devised for their congregants’ well-being.
Start a “Book Club”
If you find you have more time than usual, this can be a good time to catch up on the pile of books on your nightstand — or to start a new one. Share books among your circle of friends, setting aside one day per week to discuss by phone or virtually. Many publishers’ websites have book club resources already, so there are some useful prompts for discussion if you feel stuck.
Send a Card or Letter
Remember how it felt getting a card or thoughtful note from a favorite aunt or grandparent? Return the favor. Rather than texting or emailing, pick up a pen and send a letter or card. You can even enclose it in a care package that has some of your loved one’s favorite goodies.
Schedule a Virtual Dinner Date
We all miss our favorite restaurants, and ordering delivery for a senior friend or family member then sharing a meal over the phone or Zoom can lift everyone’s spirits. Don’t feel like takeout? Set an evening aside to make a family favorite at home and take a trip down memory lane. Socialization and connection have always been important parts of life at NewAldaya Lifescapes. But in these times when in-person connections feel fraught, and when social distancing has become a way of life, we’ve all had to re-think what those social connections mean and to be creative in how we form and maintain them, especially in a senior care context. If you have questions or concerns about our COVID response, you can find up-to-date information on our website, and you are of course always welcome to call with your concerns.