Reducing social isolation: how to engage the elderly during the COVID-19 pandemic

Engaging with the elderly is always important for their mental and physical health, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, a consistent, socially distant relationship is even more important as a means to stave off social isolation. Social isolation leads to decreased quality of life and even death in some cases of loneliness. If you can work with those you are caring for and keep them engaged in society, you can improve their quality of life.

Here are five, quick tips to reduce social isolation for the senior citizen in your life. 

#1 Use neighborhood interactions

Neighborhood support networks provide older people with a sympathetic ear and a laugh, and even small favors may translate into transformational events! “Imagine you have hip-surgery, and that subsequently, ten people bring you baked goods, groceries, simple things that many people take for granted,” said Pride PHC Vice-President Andy Cruz. “Even a small sign of love, compounded into one generous act, can make a huge difference in quality of life.”

#2 Plan a drive-by greeting

During the coronavirus pandemic, senior citizens may feel trapped inside with nowhere to go. “They spend hours looking out the window for any sign of friendship, or anyone they may know to pass by,” said Cruz. If you drive by a senior’s home, especially someone who is confined to a bed, hold up a sign or engage a family or church or synagogue member to arrange a virutal greeting to show that senior that they are loved and top of mind. You may be surprised how a simple sign saying, “Hello” will lift their spirits not just for the day, but for weeks to come.

#3 Take a trip down memory lane

Keeping a senior’s memory intact during  the pandemic is extremely important, which is why focusing on the past is one of the best ways to ensure their memory of the future. You may want to consider starting a scrapbook and talking about the photos and videos and memories of the events that they represent. “Make sure to engage the patient or loved one and discuss the memory they have of the event,” said Cruz. “That will help to keep their mind as fresh as possible.”

#4 Stimulate mental activities

If you are alone, it is extremely difficitul to stay mentally engaged without some sort of outside influence. “That is why the caregiver and family become so important in the life of the senior,” said Cruz. Think about games you can play at a distance or using the internet to travel virtually, reading -which is often an underappreciated activity which stimulates the imagination, writing – which can also develop a good history for kids and grandkids, and humor -which can be a healthy way to stimulate the mind emotionally. 

#5 Go on a news diet

There is no question that it is important to stay informed, but watching 24-hour cable news with endless, depressing statistics may lead to negative thoughts. Enduring the repetitious pummeling from TV all day long can bring needless anxiety. “Why subject the person in  your care or your loved one through an emotional, real-life roller coaster that is clearly a negative,” said Cruz. We advise 30 minutes of television news in the morning and 30 minutes again at night, maximum, to catch up on the day’s news. Any more might be an information overload and translate into negative energy. 

Keeping the elderly engaged during COVID-19 can be a tricky process, but if you follow these tips, it will go a long way to enhancing and extending their quality of life. 

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