In January 2018, the British Prime Minister appointed a Minister of Loneliness to combat the epidemic of isolation. Keep in mind, this was before the coronavirus reared its ugly head. Countries were just beginning to tackle the devastating effects of loneliness
Why Loneliness is Dangerous
Studies show that loneliness can cause early death. Even a perceived loneliness can cause health problems, so even if they’re surrounded by people but still feel lonely, people are more apt to develop serious physical and psychiatric problems.
Even if placed in busy households, seniors often feel lonely as family members still have jobs and other obligations that take up their time. But many seniors often aren’t in busy households, and the dangers of loneliness suffered in isolation increases.
According to the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, loneliness can lead to “various psychiatric disorders like depression sleep problems, personality disorders and Alzheimer’s disease.”
Not only that, but there are also the dangers of physical disorders such as “diabetes, autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and cardiovascular diseases like coronary heart disease, hypertension (HTN), obesity, physiological aging, cancer, poor hearing and poor health.”
The journal concludes that “left untended, loneliness can have serious consequences for the mental and physical health of people. Therefore it is important to intervene at the right time to prevent loneliness, so that physical and mental health of patients is maintained.”
Now with the coronavirus, it’s particularly difficult to watch over the elderly who are particularly susceptible to suffering from the negative effects of isolation. Too many visitors and they are in serious danger from Covid-19, but left alone they can suffer from the negative effects of loneliness.
If at all possible, shelter in place with your elderly family member. If not, or even if so, we need to make an effort to relieve our elderly from loneliness.
Especially while sheltering in place, the elderly need something to look forward to daily. Make sure your grandparents have the basic training they need to click on a link so they can use Zoom or Google Meet.
The different members of your family can coordinate to contact your beloved family member daily. Share a Google calendar with your family, so everyone can sign up to visit Grandma or Grandpa online every day.
It’s crucial that no one forgets their time slot. It doesn’t help to have something to look forward to if the event falls through.
Have the whole family gather in front of the screen and take turns talking. If you have children, have them show off what they’re doing and pictures they’ve drawn for them. Then mail them the pictures.
Social Media and Online Hobby Groups
If they haven’t jumped on the social media bandwagon, now’s the time to start. Social media has been a valuable resource for the elderly to keep in contact with friends and family.
It’s also a place to socialize with people that share similar interests. The good news is that with the give and take on social media, the grandparents are able to join a conversation. It’s also an opportunity to bridge the generational gap as relatives can learn about each other and find what they have in common.
Have someone who is healthy and Covid-free train them on the basics of social media. Have them also help your family member find online hobby groups that match their interests.
According to the AARP, a recent study of seniors ages 65 and older showed that those who received Internet-Enabled Cognitive Behavioral Therapy over a period of 2.5 years, “65 percent of older patients with depression and anxiety showed clinical improvement, and 49 percent showed reliable recovery from the disorders.” Basically, seniors show as much improvement as younger patients when they receive online therapy.
With the increase of isolation, we all need online therapy, but perhaps none so much as the elderly who were already struggling with loneliness and depression issues before the pandemic.
Good luck to you all during this challenging time. May you and your elderly loved ones find a way to not only endure this pandemic, but to live life well despite the difficulties.