Senior Health

1/14/2022 | By Terri L. Jones

COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on seniors’ health and not just because of the effects of the virus itself. Social isolation and COVID-19 combined are taking a serious toll on seniors’ physical and mental wellbeing. With gatherings cancelled, delayed, or reduced in size, congregations gathering via live stream, and even friends getting together much less, if at all, social isolation wrought by this pandemic has created a hidden danger. What can seniors and their loved ones do to overcome this pandemic problem?

How have forced social isolation and COVID-19 affected seniors?

Social isolation, defined by the NIH as “the lack of social contacts and having few people to interact with regularly,” is a state experienced by just about all of us to some degree since early 2020. It can be lonely and frustrating, no doubt, but it can also rival obesity, physical inactivity, and smoking when it comes to your health. Prolonged isolation can rank right up there with smoking 15 cigarettes a day!

The fallout can be significant. Not surprisingly, social isolation increases your risk of depression, anxiety, and suicide. According to the CDC, those who are socially isolated are also much more prone to heart disease and stroke as well as 50 percent more likely to develop dementia.

In fact, when long-term care facilities were locked down during the pandemic, staff and families reported that the feelings of loneliness, abandonment, despair, and fear associated with residents’ isolation accelerated their decline and escalated the already catastrophic number of deaths.

So, what should you do about it?

With COVID variants once again restricting social interaction, there are many ways to mitigate the isolation that’s bound to follow. For example:

  • Keep lines of communication open. If you can’t safely engage with friends and family in person, schedule regular calls with them, either audio only or through Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime, where you can see people’s faces and feel more intimately connected.
  • Join a book club, Bible study, or other discussion group via Zoom or take an online class that allows opportunity for engagement.
  • If the weather cooperates, invite friends to walk (and talk) with you around the neighborhood.
  • Consider adopting a pet for companionship (be sure you can make a long-term commitment before considering this option, or contact a reputable foster group for short-term companionship).
  • Contact community or faith-based organizations for support.

Related: Five fun tricks to make isolation more bearable

Related: More on the mental health fallout of the pandemic

If and when we can resume normal social interaction, it may be just as difficult to socially immerse yourself as it was to socially isolate yourself two years ago. Give yourself grace and ease back into being with people again.

Know that you’re not alone in facing social isolation and COVID-19 and other pandemic problems. We’re all adjusting to each day’s “new normal” together.

Terri L. Jones

Terri L. Jones has been writing educational and informative topics for the senior industry for over ten years, and is a frequent and longtime contributor to Seniors Guide.

Terri Jones