They’re some of the most heartwarming stories and images of this year so far: Families, friends and loved ones gathered outside the windows of beloved seniors, coming together to spread love and share words of encouragement. Anything just to be physically close and visit face-to-face the way they could in a world before COVID-19.
Some talked by phone while sitting in plain view of one another. Others held up signs bearing messages like “We Love You” or “Stay Strong.” Some have even celebrated birthdays or special occasions—cake and all—as best they could when considering the obvious limitations, of course.
COVID-19 has done much to curtail all of our collective freedom to physically assemble. In fact, at the time of writing, senior living communities nationwide had since limited or entirely suspended visitation in the name of resident safety. Nonetheless, we’re reminded that distancing mustn’t mean disconnecting, particularly when it comes to seniors and their families.
Here’s why it’s important for seniors to maintain outside interactions—under these and all circumstances—and what’s now being done in prominent senior community settings to empower regular contact between residents and their loved ones.
ISOLATION CAN BE DETRIMENTAL TO SENIORS’ OVERALL HEALTH
Especially as COVID-19 has created unprecedented isolation across the world, even self-described introverts are reminded that real, authentic human interaction is a powerful force in all of our lives.
But for seniors specifically, isolation is a genuine health concern. And that’s because there’s a very fine line between isolation and loneliness, with the latter having been linked to higher risk for a variety of physical and mental illnesses, everything from hypertension and heart disease, to depression, cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s, weakened resistance to infectious diseases and even death.
Risk factors aside, though, social interaction is a rather simple lifestyle factor, and one that’s relatively easy to control. Yet it has the power to create very significant—and immediate—positive outcomes for seniors. That includes things like improved happiness and personal satisfaction, a heightened sense of purpose and belonging, and elevated quality of life overall.
Said another way, social interaction is something small that can be done every day to make a very big difference in the lives of seniors. And that’s why family, friends and loved ones, as well as seniors of all ages and in every living situation make it a mission to maintain regular contact, both throughout the COVID-19 crisis and thereafter. Now let’s explore how senior living communities are doing their part to help.
USING TECHNOLOGY TO DEFEAT THE DANGERS OF ISOLATION
Digital technology and applications offering video chatting capabilities are crucial for keeping seniors and families connected in the current environment. And many of our communities like Aston Gardens At Tampa Bay are using the power of technology to keep residents and families connected even while COVID-19 forces us all apart.
By facilitating video chats for residents on their personal devices, or doing so using the community’s own tablets, residents and families have been staying connected through frequent (virtual) interaction. “We’ve been using applications including FaceTime, Skype, and Facebook Messenger video calls to enable residents to stay in touch with their loved ones,” said Director of Celebrations Gail King, who oversees the program. “Our ‘Assisted Video Chatting Sessions’ bring a layer of excitement and anticipation to our residents’ days, and have proven uplifting and beneficial for their state of mind in these challenging times.”
King explained how residents love the opportunity to see and speak with family—especially grandchildren—while families appreciate the firsthand ability to ensure their loved ones’ safety and well-being on a regular basis, just like they did before COVID-19. She said it’s a central part of the community’s more comprehensive efforts to support residents’ all-around health and happiness in what are new and unprecedented circumstances.
Indeed, times may change, but the things that tend to make people happy rarely do. And for seniors especially, regular human interaction is a critical line of defense against the adverse effects of isolation and loneliness, and maintaining that regular contact has probably never been more important than it is right now.