As winter sets in, isolation increases for older adults, but there are ways to limit loneliness.
In a year that has been defined by isolation, loneliness may increase in the next few months as flu season, cold weather and a possible uptick in COVID-19 become the norm. It seems likely that many holiday activities will be cancelled, exacerbating loneliness and isolation, especially among older adults.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine says that, among older adults, factors such as living alone, the loss of family or friends, chronic illness and hearing loss can increase the risk of loneliness and social isolation, even increasing the risk of premature death.
How to help a lonely older adult.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Americans rallied to help each other. People checked on one another as they organized socially-distant gatherings and arranged “visits” on Zoom. Many months later, as the pandemic drags on, some of these helpful contacts have fallen away. As winter and the holidays approach, the feelings of isolation and loneliness will increase, but family, friends, neighbors and services can identify and help lessen these feelings.
Friends and family are encouraged to visit and call to check in on their older adults. These calls and visits can brighten a lonely day. Perhaps consider arranging an in-person visit, playing a game, cooking together, enjoying old photos or taking a walk outside. Zoom, FaceTime and telephone visits can also help. Engage seniors with interesting conversations, ask questions and tell fun stories.
Pam Seher, Mobile Meals Meal Program Supervisor, advises that older adults often are reluctant to ask for help. During the Mobile Meals delivery process, volunteers are asked to provide conversation and to detect loneliness. As the return of cooler weather and the prospect of being separated from family and friends during the holidays approaches, seniors’ feelings of isolation and loneliness will likely increase. “We need to work together and help each other out … especially at this time of year,” Seher adds.
Marianne Hassen, M.A., OTR/L, C.O.O. Concept Rehab, Inc. advises that attempts to lessen loneliness during holidays, is critical and reminds that older adults should be contacted and included in holiday activities, whether they’re physically present or not. Hassen suggests these ideas:
-consider smaller events that would be safe for your elders and take them along.
-drop off holiday foods, flowers and presents and stay for a socially-distanced visit.
-create video events, such as cooking parties. Recreate a family recipe and share stories about where it originated and how it’s changed over the years.
-share other traditions (reading holiday books, opening cards and gifts, etc.) over a video call.
-contact older adults frequently.
Reach out to others and for community resources
It’s also important for older adults to have consistent social contact, especially in the colder months when they are forced to be indoors. Encourage regular interaction with neighbors, including front porch conversations and meeting with friends – outdoors at parks, the Zoo, or indoors at museums or other spacious facilities open during the pandemic.
Churches, community associations and other organizations can be helpful with providing connections while senior centers, even if they are not physically open they are available by phone to provide information and support. Consider creating a social bubble with a limited number of friends and family for an older adult to be physically close to and to share normal activities with on an ongoing basis.
Utilize the resources available in the community to assist older adults. (See sidebar) “People often are not aware of how much is available to older adults in this area,” explains Seher. Many organizations help with programs that seniors can use every day.
The Area Office on Aging of Northwestern Ohio, Inc. supports the health, well-being and safety of older adults, persons with disabilities and their family and caregivers. Find resources, locate services and make connections here.
The Northwest Ohio Pathways HUB, Hospital Council of Northwest Ohio specializes in all levels of community health care, especially chronic conditions
AARP offers a variety of programs, services and resources (including many focused locally) for older adults
The Maumee Senior Center, 2430 S. Detroit, Maumee, OH, 419-893-1994 expects to reopen on November 2, 2020. firstname.lastname@example.org
The Sylvania Senior Center, 7140 Sylvania Ave., Sylvania, OH, 419-885-3913 is awaiting further “opening” information from the state. Limited services are now available.
Jewish Family Centers, 2700 Pelham,Toledo, OH, 419-531-2119 is offering limited services. Jewishtoledo.org
Wood County Senior Centers, 305 N. Main Street, Bowling Green, OH 43402, 419-953-5661. Hoping to reopen early November but offering some services in the meantime. Wccoa.net]
Oregon Senior Center, 4350 Navarre Ave., Toledo, OH., 419 698 7078. Providing limited services. Oscohio.org
60 Plus Senior Programs, 419.213.4100, provides health promotion and disease prevention to senior residents of Lucas County to help them maintain their present level of independence.
YMCA of Greater Toledo, 419-729-8135, offers a large array of senior fitness programs. https://www.ymcatoledo.org/programs/active-older-adults/