Bridging the Gap of Isolation: Making a Happier Setting for the Elderly

After all Florida school districts closed to help their communities contain COVID-19, Nora Quintin* felt isolated. The 84-year-old retired Spanish teacher, who volunteered four days a week for five hours a day in a Palm Beach County elementary school, could no longer meet with her students or chat with other teachers. And so, she stayed in bed, day after day.

When her isolation came dangerously close to causing her to fall into depression, her daughter quickly challenged her to create a series of Spanish lesson plans she could teach to her five-year-old twin great-grand daughters over the Google Duo app. Suddenly, Nora got a twinkle back in her eye and began to look forward to getting out of bed every day. Not only did she plan the lessons, but she looked forward to learning Google Duo, which allowed her to see her great-granddaughters every day.

Sadly, Nora is not alone. Because of COVID-19, the lives and daily activities of our senior population have dramatically changed. Most seniors spend a majority of their time close to home, having coffee and lunch with neighbors and enjoying visits from friends and family. And for those seniors who already struggle with isolation, not being able to socialize with one another, receive visits from loved ones, or partake in religious services is increasing their loneliness. In some cases, it’s even fueling their depression.

But it doesn’t have to be this way! We can help combat this issue by bridging the gap of isolation and making a happier setting for the elderly—for those loved ones who may be living with us and for those we know who live in their own homes. Here are just a few tips you can use or share to help stimulate the mental, physical, and emotional health of those elderly people in your life, while still maintaining social distance.

  1. Exercise the Body, Mind, and Soul
    Walking every day is important for our bodies, however that can be accomplished. If your loved one can’t go outside, encourage them to stretch and walk around their room or house if able. Also, just as it is important to keep our bodies moving, it’s also necessary to exercise our minds and souls. Perhaps you can encourage your loved one to learn something new like playing a guitar or study the Bible in a deeper way by taking a class or watching church online. For those who have access to the internet, encourage them to tap into the many resources for online learning so they can develop new skills or catch up on old ones.
  2. Engage in Daily Communication
    Although it’s being referred to as social distancing, it’d be more accurate to say we’re physically distancing. It’s important to get our seniors to socialize daily by calling them on the phone or connecting with them on the computer. Just remember, most elders have some level of hearing loss so phone calls might not be easy for them. Ask them to be patient and be sure to speak clearly. If possible, use video call apps such as Facetime or Google Duo so you can communicate with them face-to-face.
  3. Bring on the World of Entertainment
    Engaging television shows such as documentaries and game, talk, and comedy shows are great ways to keep your friends and loved ones entertained. Have them turn OFF the news! Other ways they can occupy their time and keep their minds sharp is by reading books, doing puzzles, making crafts, or engaging in drawing or painting activities.
  4. Keep to a Regular Schedule
    There’s something about keeping to a regular routine that gives people something to look forward to. Encourage your senior to get up, eat their meals, and go to bed every day at the same time. Check on them to make sure they shower, get dressed, and drink plenty of fluids each day.
  5. Plan a Daily Project
    There could be many reasons why your loved one suddenly doesn’t want to get out of bed. If you see this begin to happen, plan a daily project for them. More than anything, try to pick a project that encourages the feeling of usefulness. Find what their interests are and encourage technology whenever possible, like enjoying a virtual tour of a museum. Top-tier institutions around the world have vast online archives—all of which are free.

You can develop or borrow any of the strategies listed above for minimizing isolation—get creative! You can make a difference by bridging the isolation gap and playing a key role in fostering relationships between elders and our younger generation.

If you notice a senior showing warning signs of suicide, like overdose, self-starvation, self-dehydration, and “accidents,” call the Suicide Hotline at 800-273-8255 or call 911 in an emergency situation.

*This name was changed to protect the individual’s identity.

About the Author

Maritza Cosano-Gomez