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Loneliness During COVID-19: A Dilemma for Seniors

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Medicine is based on the philosophy – First do no harm. When public health officials ordered social distancing to prevent the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus, it came with consequences.  For example, one of the more important negative effects – loneliness.

As Guest Author Patricia Ferguson Meek discusses in her article, Loneliness Lives Here, loneliness can cause serious harm. 

How do we use social distancing to protect our vulnerable seniors — and still socially engage with them?  Anna Holtby posed this question in her article:
How to help seniors feel less isolated

Holtby shared suggestions from Wendy Duggleby, former research chair in Aging and Quality of Life, U of A.

Stay in touch

  • Good old fashioned phone calls.  
  • Write letters (See our article: Writing Letters
  • Have grand kids make and send a card. 
  • Compile a photo album — include names, dates, stories. Then, discuss during phone calls.
  • Use technology.  Many seniors are  comfortable with a computer, smart phone or tablet.   A survey in 2019 found that 74% of seniors are comfortable using technology. Canadian seniors want more tech in their lives.

Sync up

While connected by phone or device:

  • Have a virtual dinner party — connect several households/families
  • Watch a movie on line together
  • Read over the phone
  • Exercise together while connected on apps such as FaceTime, Skype, or Google Duo. 

Take a virtual tour

Because all of society is “shut-down”, there have been many virtual tours offered online: museums, art galleries, famous gardens to name a few.  Music performances from classical to pop to jazz are offered to provide more than entertainment.

Music can heal the wounds which medicine cannot touch.

Debasish Mridha

Volunteer

Connect seniors with others who are also feeling isolated and lonely. Volunteer Canada states:

“Volunteering provides health benefits to older adults.  It offers them significant physical, emotional and cognitive or brain health benefits. It also enhances social support, social inclusion and civic engagement.” 

Volunteer Canada

Investigate immersive technologies

An “immersive” technology is a one that aims to imitate the physical world through a digital or simulated world.  This technology could include:
games and simulations,
social-assistance robots and
social technologies.  
Research is ongoing to determine the potential of these technologies to promote healthy aging. 

Although the current COVID-19 pandemic is the focus of this article, these strategies can be used at any time to provide more connection to isolated seniors.  

End Notes

1. New Trail. U of Alberta March 26, 2020

2. Canadian seniors want more tech in their lives. 

3.  Volunteer Canada

4.  Canadian seniors volunteer more time, money than any other age group: report

Additional Reading

How caregivers can remain connected to loved ones
McMaster Optimal Aging

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