Although all ages have suffered during the pandemic, older adults have experienced disproportionately greater adverse effects from social isolation. High anxiety about disruptions to daily routine and access to care not only aggravates existing mental health issues, but can lead to more severe complications (and higher mortality) from the virus itself.
Seniors urgently need social interaction and social support networks, says Bill VanGorder, C.A.R.P. ‘s chief policy officer. He sees communications technology as a key resource, and urges families to use every technology tool available – voice calls, video calls, multi-person video meetings. “Call them and call them often,” he says. “Hearing someone’s voice helps to connect you with them.”
Technology also enables seniors to reach and alleviate the effects of isolation and loneliness. They can shop, learn, be entertained – stay connected to the outside world.
It’s a widespread need, VanGorder points out. Although most of the focus has been on the crisis in nursing homes, less than 10 per cent of seniors live in long-term care homes. The rest also deserve attention and resources.
Van Gorder’s view is echoed by Marie-Claire Chartrand of Greywave, which helps families navigate the health and long-term care systems. Scheduling daily video calls allows convenient communication during these times of increased isolation, especially for those with mobility issues.
“Checking in and calling is the best thing you can do right now,” she says. “Try to help them find hope – ask them how they’re feeling and help them work through it.”
C.A.R.P. suggests making an activity the focal point of connecting with seniors, especially since more and more now have access to technology through computers, tablets or smartphones.
“I know a woman teaching her granddaughter to bake over the phone,” says VanGorder.“I also know a man who is writing stories online and through email with his grandchildren and feels connected with them through that,”
“Do something together – this makes it an event rather than a quick hello.”
Read Bill VanGorder’s further comments below: