Q: My sister and I are concerned about our elderly mother who has become very isolated due to the pandemic. She was previously active at her local Senior Center and volunteered at a church food pantry. We both call her frequently, but neither of us lives nearby. We have noticed she has become quiet and withdrawn. Are there any resources to try and keep her engaged while she is mostly confined to her home?
A: Odds are most of us have felt like the “walls were closing in on us” and long to return to the life we led before we ever heard about COVID-19. The pandemic suddenly halted face-to-face interactions for a large segment of the population. Many older adults have been affected to a greater extent due to pre-existing conditions which makes them more vulnerable to the virus. Previous estimates indicated about a quarter of seniors were isolated and one-third experienced loneliness. These numbers have surely increased over the last six months. Lack of stimulation can lead to a decline in cognitive functioning, and social isolation is now viewed as a risk factor for premature death.
Valued social connections are essential to physical and mental health well-being. The challenge for each of us is finding a way to combat the sense of separation from our usual contacts. Many communities continue to provide daily check-ins with residents through telephone reassurance programs.
Technology is an important tool that can make a real difference for someone isolated. Tablets like GrandPad offer video calling and photo sharing for older adults. Computers and smartphones provide an opportunity to connect with online physical activity and health promotion programs. Your mother should check with her local Senior Center to inquire if they are now offering online activities as many organizations have adapted to offering virtual programs.
Early in the year, our agency realized we would need to conduct many of our Healthy Living programs virtually through platforms like Zoom. The programs provide an opportunity for social interaction, focus on self-management skills, and provide support and resources.
Seniors can also use technology to take online tours of national parks, museums and art galleries, as well as board and card games on websites like www.arkadium.com/.
Visit us online at www.ESMV.org for more information about our Healthy Living programs and other resources or contact our staff at 1-800-892-0890 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Joan Hatem-Roy is the Chief Executive Officer of Elder Services of Merrimack Valley and North Shore.