7 Ways for Seniors to Handle Isolation During COVID
As the weather warms and the ground thaws, the pandemic continues to stretch on. But as the long winter yields to spring, the vaccination distribution begins to reach a broader population, and the end, we’re hopeful, is near. As we await the guidelines that will minimize 6 feet to none, we must still abide by social distancing. As such, seniors are still bearing the emotional and physical effects of the pandemic. The great news? There are ways for seniors to handle isolation during COVID that can inspire connection and motivate physical movement.
Early in the pandemic, seniors were recognized as a highly vulnerable population to COVID-19. According to Mass General, “Physical distancing has been the critical measure in the prevention and spread of infection within this age group.” That significant time separated from loved ones can have an impact on mental health. Seniors can be supported in a myriad of ways, padding the remainder of the pandemic with a plush reminder that they’re connected to loved ones and the world around them.
Engage in a new skill
Seniors isolated at home may lose a sense of routine or purpose. To veer away from a sense of loneliness, try engaging in a new skill. Megan Humphrey, Executive Director of HANDS, suggests painting, learning a new instrument, joining an online group, writing and knitting. A new activity may inspire a newfound motivation, making each new day an adventure in its own right.
Utilize technology for virtual visits
“Virtual visits provide connection,” Megan says. While chatting on the phone can be a source of connecting, seeing someone over platforms like Zoom allow a “greater connection”. Recognizing faces and facial expressions helps mimic an in-person visit, which could provide much needed comfort when the world feels as if it’s shut off.
Connect with a penpal or support buddy
If writing a letter has become a new found hobby, explore the world through snail mail! Anticipating a letter could be an exciting addition to each day. Plus, scripting a letter could stimulate the brain.
In a response to COVID in March 2020, HANDS partnered with Heineberg Community Senior Center to create “Support Buddies”. Volunteers were matched with isolated seniors and friendships blossomed. “Volunteers checked in periodically with seniors and that really helped. Some deep friendships have blossomed and that’s so heartwarming,” Megan shares. Finding a buddy, whether zip codes away or within the same county lines, allows seniors to socialize without being put at risk.
Stay physically active
While walks around the block may be limited to ensure community and personal safety, physical activity doesn’t have to fall victim to the pandemic. Virtual group classes have proven to reduce loneliness. A study conducted by Cedars-Sinai Medical Center concluded that “Seniors who joined group exercise classes experienced decreased loneliness and social isolation.” Whether exercise classes are done via a YouTube class or a local gym, a few light reps of seated bicep curls.
Take care of a plant
Studies suggest that nurturing relieves feelings of social isolation. If a pet isn’t present in the household, consider a houseplant. Living, and in need of food, light and maybe some conversation, plants aren’t furry but they require attention to grow. As the snow melts to reveal the soil once again, nurturing a house plant can expand to an entire garden. HANDS’s “HANDS in the Dirt” program offers workshops like “Growing Culinary Herbs Indoors” and “Companion Planting”.
Arrange a book club
Providing structure to a virtual visit emphasizes connection. Virtually offered, it’s an opportunity to forge new friendships. Arranged with family, it’s an opportunity to spend cherished time with loved ones. Benefits of book clubs include conversations, candid and guided. Plus, you’ll get to dive into the pages of new worlds.
Get creative in the kitchen
It’s always an opportune time to pick up a new cooking technique and expand your knowledge of nutrition. “HANDS in the Kitchen” is a program that offers insights into building fresher meals with local ingredients, and how to easily prep for meals. It’s time spent connecting in the kitchen, and results in indulging in colorful, plentiful, independently crafted meals.
Since the beginning of COVID, HANDS has helped provide services for over 1,750 seniors in the greater Burlington, Vermont area. “We don’t do anything alone,” Megan says. “Each program has financial sponsors, community support and volunteer help.” And for that, HANDS is incredibly grateful to be able to continue providing support in our community and beyond.