As we find ourselves in challenging times, there are definite seeds of hope and creativity across the country and the world. The news has been full of the shocking impact COVID-19 has had on the senior population. Not only has the virus disproportionately affected older adults, but it has also exacerbated the problem of social isolation.
Easy solutions to the problems of elder care may be a long time coming. Meanwhile, people have taken matters into their own hands by using “old school” methods to alleviate social isolation.
And it is working.
It is disheartening to read about the profound impact COVID-19 has had on the lives of older Americans. Even before the pandemic shut down senior living communities across the country, social isolation was a problem.
According to AARP survey results, one in three adults say they lack regular companionship, and one in four say they feel isolated from other people at least some of the time. Other circumstances also contribute to social isolation and loneliness.
The negative impacts of social isolation and loneliness are well documented and further exacerbated by COVID-19. Here are just a few of the consequences of loneliness:
Every aspect of life has changed during COVID-19. There has been a resurgence of tried and true methods of connecting people, along with some new creative ones as well.
The use of social media is a great way to connect. Seniors are being introduced to FaceTime, Zoom, Facebook and Instagram to facilitate connection with family. These are great resources but require the equipment and knowledge to access. Both can be a challenge for many older people. The visitor restrictions that are in place in many senior living communities add to the problem.
Another creative and more accessible effort has been gaining steam-the old fashion use of the telephone and writing to connect seniors with younger people.
There are some amazing and heartwarming stories of younger people connecting with seniors by writing letters, sending cards, pictures and videos. The great thing about these efforts is that it is very low-tech and uses a communication method that seniors are comfortable and familiar with. Let’s take a look at some of these ideas.
Moorestown Send-a-Smile organization is the brainchild of Carin Troy of Moorestown, N.J. Carin says: “I thought it might appeal to our community to send cards to these isolated seniors to not only brighten their day but also teach our children empathy and respect for our seniors.”
Carin started with school-age children, but adults have joined in as well. In just three weeks, more than 400 cards have been sent to seniors living independently and in care facilities.
The activities director at St. Paul’s Senior Services in San Diego started the idea of Sunshine for Seniors. Kids present craft books, painted rocks, and cards to seniors with a message of encouragement. The program also accepts large print puzzle books.
17-year-old Ben Richardson from Maryland was worried about his 87-year-old grandfather, who was alone in assisted living. His idea, Letters with Love, asks people to send three or more cards or letters to people in assisted living. Ben even has a template for people to use in writing their letters.
We may not have considered that kids in school are also in quarantine, and boredom has set in for many of them. The perfect solution for both generations is to connect.
Sometimes it takes just one person to make a big difference. Francesca D’Amico, also from San Diego and a high school junior, decided to start a pen pal program. She has recruited two dozen of her friends to send messages to seniors in quarantine.
Other pen pal programs have sprouted up around the world. The Village Concepts Pen Pal Program is a very successful program in Auburn, Washington, that pairs small children with isolated seniors. One senior participant said: “I felt loved and wanted. It’s important for everyone to feel those two things in life.”
Residents in a senior living community in North Carolina are pen pals with people around the world. A Facebook post went viral with more than 18,000 shares after the community asked for pen pals.
These examples are just a fraction of the pen pal programs across the country, and more are being started all the time.
As we navigate our way through the effects of quarantine and social isolation, compassion and creativity are forging a path forward. Young and old are finding ways to connect and help each other. We may look back and recognize that this was one very positive outcome of a difficult situation. Let’s hope these gestures of compassion continue to provide the good medicine that seniors so desperately need.
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