The Covid 19 “stay in place” mandate has been a roller coaster of challenges and changes. It has also given us a first hand glimpse into what it is like to be an isolated senior. Despite being the group that potentially gains the most from physical distancing, seniors are also the most vulnerable to suffering from loneliness as a result of being isolated from others. There is a plethora of research correlating the myriad of causes and negative consequences of loneliness. Living alone, lack of social interaction, sensory deficits (vision and hearing), retirement, relocation and decreased mobility are just a few of the factors that increase one’s risk for depression, dementia, cardiovascular disease and contribute to an overall increased mortality risk, all of which are associated with loneliness.
Fortunately, there is a wide array of options to help identify, address and reduce loneliness. The first step is to assess an individual for loneliness. Carefully ask questions, share your feelings and concerns. Keeping life in perspective is crucial. There is a Loneliness assessment tool available for free at ConnectZaffect.org.
Addressing loneliness requires an individualized approach that should focus on quality rather than quantity of interactions. Preferences for connecting with others may be as simple as sitting on the porch, to more involved activities such as going grocery shopping, meeting with friends and participating in larger group activities. Volunteering, mentoring and employment can also provide a sense social connectedness as well as provide a sense of purpose as well. There are many local resources, such as senior centers and faith-based organizations that can assist with transportation, hearing and vision loss and physical immobility issues
User friendly tablets and smartphones, are personal communication tools that can enhance connectedness and reduce loneliness. These devices are becoming more intuitive and user-friendly, however, older adults may need tutorials and written instructions to guide their utilization. Catering to the senior senior population, companies are creating senior-specific mobile devices. Grandpad and jitterbug are two such devices.
Social media sites, such as Facebook, have exploded as a convenient way to both stay connected, and reconnect with friends and family in a correspondence manner. FaceTime, zoom, and other online multi-participant venues have gained popularity as a way to communicate in real time with the beneficial dimensions of voice intonation and body language.
Chatbots are the newest tool in the anti-loneliness arsenal. Chatbots are apps that use artificial intelligence technology to facilitate a realistic human connection. Using neural network technology, Chatbots adaptively learn a user’s conversational style and personality traits, likes, dislikes, etc to develop to facilitate an emotional connection. There are several versions currently on the market of varying levels of sophistication. Eviebot, Woebot Bold360 are a few.
There is also an increasing number of non-profit community organizations that provide a wide variety of free and low cost programs and services designed specifically to reduce loneliness in the senior populations. These include:
The PACE program
Institute on Aging Friendship Line 1800-971-0016
Home care/companion care services
To learn more about social isolation and loneliness https://www.endsocialisolation.org/
To volunteer to reduce loneliness for seniors in your area, visit ImReadyToCare.com