Social isolation is a real health threat to seniors even before COVID-19. In fact, the National Poll on Healthy Aging shows that 1 in 4 seniors face isolation and 1 in 3 lack constant companionship. The National Institute on Aging states that isolation is linked to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions: high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and even death. A University of Chicago study found that individuals reporting social isolation showed poorer cognitive function 4 years later. Overall, isolation has both a negative physical and psychological impact on seniors that effects everything from their well-being as well to their overall lifespan.
COVID-19 and the resulting social isolation is not making this easier for these seniors. Some of the most common and enjoyable social events and activities have been removed with the closing of churches, movie theaters and onsite dining at restaurants. Many seniors are fearful of going out to do the basic necessities such as shopping for groceries and refilling prescriptions, and their families are concerned about them spending too much time alone or going out in public and being exposed.
Senior living communities and the associated supportive services are designed specifically to combat social isolation and increase the health and well-being of residents. Supportive services includes important items such as delicious nutritious meals delivered to a resident’s door, medication management, daily wellness checks and all maintenance of the apartment homes. All of these services offer safety and security for the resident and peace of mind for their families. With the novel COVID-19, they are going the extra mile in consistent cleaning and disinfection of living areas as well as ensuring residents have everything they need for their daily living.
Senior living communities are also known for robust activities that offer multiple socialization opportunities to residents daily. While these have been pulled back, staff at the communities have been creative in offering alternative ways to make sure that socialization is still available. Today, communities are offering video conferencing visits for families through applications like Skype or FaceTime. Virtual activities are being offered by organizations across the globe such as nightly operas from The Metropolitan Opera and online museum tours from the likes of the Guggenheim in New York and the British Museum in London. Kits for favorite crafts can be put together and delivered right to the resident’s door. Senior living communities are able to research and find these activities and offer the information to their residents based on their individual interests. Check out our list of 37 social distancing activities for seniors for ideas.
Right now, we need to ban together as a community. If you know of a senior who is living alone, it’s a great time to check in and see if they need anything. While keeping safe and healthy, this is also a great time to assess whether you, as a senior, or your loved one, for family members, is really living the full and active life you both want and need.
Authored by: Cindy Olson
Vice President, Consulting Services