Loneliness

How to Help Older Adults Fight Loneliness During COVID-19

Social isolation can be dangerous for older adults. Here's how to help.

Posted Apr 03, 2020

By Kailin Huang

“We are a social species. Our social networks (families, tribes, communities, etc.) enabled us to survive and thrive.”

—Clifford Singer (2018)

As social distancing and self-imposed quarantine become more necessary and this global pandemic spreads more widely and quickly, workplaces are urging employees to avoid the office. The COVID-19 outbreak has left many people more alone than they’ve been in a long time, or ever.

When you stay in place without your family and friends, when you are forced to keep a social distance from all your coworkers, will you feel isolated? Rejected? Disconnected from society? How does it mentally affect you?

Why the Elderly? What Does Research Show Us?

According to recent research titled "COVID-19: An Exposition, with a Focus on Social Isolation in the Elderly (UK)," social isolation, especially in the elderly, brings with it a higher likelihood of psychological and medical risks. The major risk factors include older adults’ physical limitations which can impact mobility and their ability to do things by themselves (Novotney, 2019; Shaw, 2020; Robinson, 2019). Also, they might already feel disconnected living on their own not having support from relatives or social connection to others (forming friendships, involvement in regular social interaction, etc.).

Social isolation can also lead to loneliness and depression. Physiologically, loneliness and long-term social distancing can decrease someone’s ability to fight infection and inflammation. The stress and anxiety which loneliness causes can lead to a change in white blood cells as well, creating more issues for older adults.

So, What Can We Do?

Social isolation is a method to improve public health, but how can we combat the adverse effects of social isolation, especially in the elderly at this time of the COVID-19 lockdown?

Nowadays, we have the technology to fight against social isolation, but what if the elderly don’t have a smartphone, or they don’t know how to use it? The research suggests that technology experts and specialists have innovated varied ways of keeping connected with the isolated elderly. During this social-distancing season, it is important to make sure that the elderly can have social connectedness, and through technology, we get to monitor their well-being, their needs, and their health.

Local Government Plays an Important Role During COVID-19

At the same time, the government also plays an extremely important role during this season for elderly people. Local government should provide services such as grocery delivery, visits from doctors and specialists, and transportation for the elderly, especially to the hospital for medical appointments. These services can protect them from potential COVID-19 infection. The government should be aware of how COVID-19 can harmfully affect the elderly in our society and, if the government can be proactive and put these interventions into practice in local areas, it is possible to mitigate the adverse effects of social isolation.

Kailin Huang, used with permission
Source: Kailin Huang, used with permission

Kailin Huang is a graduate student pursuing an M.A. in Humanitarian and Disaster Leadership at the Wheaton College Graduate School (IL). She is currently working at the Humanitarian and Disaster Institute as a graduate assistant.

References

Jones, X. R. (2020). Covid-19: An Exposition, with a Focus on Social Isolation in the Elderly (UK). 10.