Barbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND
Staying socially connected while physically apart
Updated: Apr 17
What is the high point in the day of a senior citizen?
If you guessed watching Jeopardy, you may be close, but that’s not it.
The answer is a toss-up between: A visit from a loved one or going to the dining room to share a meal.
Both of these daily highlights are now prohibited to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. These precautions are necessary to “flatten the curve” and protect this most vulnerable population, but it illustrates the negative consequences of social distancing.
The couple pictured above has each other, and they have someone on the other end of the call they are enjoying, but how many of us live all alone?
Living alone and social isolation carry risk
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 35.7 million Americans live alone. That’s 28% of all households. Think about your neighborhood. Is one in four households occupied by only one person? How are they faring during this time of social distancing?
Why be concerned? Because the impact of social isolation has been studied extensively in recent years and the findings are sobering. Loneliness and isolation are associated with increased risk for depression, many diseases, and cognitive decline.
During this time of mandated social distancing, all of us may be feeling the effects of isolation, coupled with anxiety about the threats of contracting the virus, economic disaster, and uncertainty about the future.
Can we stay together when apart?
What can we do? Can we counter the negative effects of physical distancing? Yes. By finding creative ways to stay socially connected. Although we need to remain apart, we can stay together. How? I suggest these five ways as a start:
1. First, we can recognize that this situation is shared across the globe.
The entire world is in this together. If you’re scrolling social media, look for examples of hope and positive social connection like the videos of people in Italy and Spain singing from their balconies. Be inspired.
2. If you’re fortunate to live with others, spend time each day enjoying one another’s company.
Cook and eat together, play a game, do a puzzle, finish a home project, or watch a movie. Take advantage of the time you are no longer attending outside events. Create shared entertainment.
3. Reach out to those who live alone.
Call them up or have a video chat rather than simply text or email. Hearing a human voice, or better yet seeing your face, forms stronger connections. Offer to pick up medicine or groceries if someone is in a vulnerable population. Helping others is good for your health and theirs.
4. Find ways to keep up with coworkers, clients, or customers so that your work can continue.
You may find new and creative ways to do business. Technology is a wonderful tool. Virtual meetings can be an excellent substitute for in-person ones. Our Toastmasters Club now meets on Zoom.
No need to cancel everything! Online courses, virtual counseling sessions, and online orders can keep day-to-day operations from coming to a halt. It can even take a local business to a wider market.
5. And don’t forget the elderly.
Nursing homes are on lockdown. To keep connected with our elderly mothers we have made signs and held them up outside their windows.
We have purchased Echo Show devices so that family members can have face-to-face conversations with them without the grandmothers needing to know how to use technology. And we are planning to drop in on them virtually even more often than we visited in person.
We will get through this. Together. Stronger. Wiser.
“I love those connections that make this big old world feel like a little village.”
~ Gina Bellman
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