Social Isolation Series, Part 3: The Role of Technology in Supporting Lonely Seniors
If you’ve been keeping up with our latest series on social isolation, you understand that the senior population faces increased risk to their physical, mental and, emotional well-being during our current global health crisis. Part 1 of this series introduced some of the triggers that can cause an unhealthy level of loneliness for you or the senior in your life, while Part 2 offered specific ideas for prevention and mitigation. In this final installment, we’re delving into the critical role technology plays in fighting the isolation felt by so many seniors throughout this time of social distancing.
“For years, experts have warned that seniors in the U.S. are experiencing high rates of social isolation and loneliness, a silent problem that has quantifiable, harmful health effects – similar even to smoking 15 cigarettes a day,” explains a recent U.S. News and World Report article. “But with the nationwide spread of COVID-19 forcing travel restrictions, community center closures and shutdowns of entire states, advocates for the elderly warn that social distancing could result in a second, invisible pandemic.”
This pandemic of loneliness felt by people across the country (and the world!) has challenged society to think outside the box and rely on unique ways of connecting with one another. Technology has become the backbone of that connection, allowing humans the opportunity to communicate and enjoy each other’s company from a safe distance. For seniors who are unfamiliar with all of the ways that technology can help them bridge the gap in terms of socialization, this article can help shed some light on both the advantages and logistics.
Technology as a Social Outlet
When spending time with loved ones and carrying out everyday tasks in public is no longer an option, it’s important to leverage the tools at your disposal to stay as connected and active as possible. If you have (or can get access to) a personal computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone for you or the senior in your life, there are lots of ways to use this device to keep in touch and help maintain mental and emotional health. Following are some of the most helpful virtual experiences and online applications.
If you can’t be with your family and friends in person, the next best thing is to enjoy their company virtually, via online platforms that enable multiple-way video and sound so you can interact with one or many people at once. Share a cup of coffee, a glass of wine or an entire meal together, as well as see and talk to grandchildren with the click of a few buttons. Some of the most popular applications for this kind of experience include Google Hangouts, Facebook Messenger, Webex, Zoom and Houseparty. This kind of face-to-face time can have a huge impact in terms of overcoming isolation by bringing the people you love back into your everyday life.
Photos and Videos
There are few activities that can help flood your heart with happy memories like immersing yourself in meaningful pictures and videos does. To see current photos and videos of loved ones, create a profile and make connections with friends and family on social media applications like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. Or, if you have the time, energy and know-how, consider going through your own collection of physical and online memories to create virtual albums and shareable videos. You can finally set those old home recordings or vacation photos to music and headlines for a stroll down memory lane that’s available for viewing over and over again.
The art of letter writing doesn’t have to be lost. In fact, writing to family and friends has never been easier with the conception of email. This is one of the easiest things you and/or the senior in your life can do to mitigate loneliness, exercise cognitive function and connect with loved ones. There’s certainly a beauty to the expression of oneself in written form, from one human to another, as well as the excitement of receiving and reading an email from a distant friend, grandchild, former colleague, etc. Consider using this platform to navigate any loneliness you or your aging loved one might be feeling at this time, and let your writing fingers do the talking.
There’s no age limit for learning! And now may be one of the best opportunities for you or the senior in your life to take a class or learn a subject in which there’s long been a personal interest. The sky’s the limit when it comes to online education, as there are seemingly endless options to connect with instructors and other learners through the Internet. Check out community college offerings, university classes, art and music programs, lecture series, technology forums and so much more. You can attend classes, converse with cohorts and stay in touch all through the magic of technology.
Music, Movies, Books and Games
When it seems like social isolation is creeping into everyday life for you or an aging loved one, one of the most effective ways to stay ahead of it is to leverage activities that foster fun and enjoyment. Maybe it’s a particular type of music that feeds your soul, or the connection to characters you feel when settling into a classic flick. Perhaps it’s the challenge of a good puzzle or game to keep your brain active. Whatever the case, there’s an array of ways to access these experiences online. From music streaming and movie subscriptions to audiobook services, virtual libraries and gaming sites, get into the things that give you joy.
Tips for Getting Tech-Savvy
Technology is becoming more important than ever in this critical time of quarantine measures and social distancing. So even if you or the senior in your life never had much of an interest in learning about the latest tech innovations and applications, our current global reality is changing the way society functions. Now is the time to step up your technology skills so you can benefit from the many options for creating normalcy and combating isolation.
When you’re ready to get learning about how to use technology to your advantage, here are some ideas for educating yourself:
- Enroll in online computer and technology classes. Aginginplace.org recommends GCFLearnFree.org or TechBoomers.com for free services, as well as Geekatoo.com for a paid online series along with technical support.
- Browse YouTube videos for helpful tutorials on how to work with various social media and virtual meetup applications.
- Have a tech-savvy friend or loved one walk you through some setup and user features by phone, email or video chat.
- Do an online search for step-by-step manuals and other reading materials that you can print out or refer to as you learn to utilize new technology and applications.
Whatever you decide, don’t let this difficult time dictate your level of social engagement. Staying connected is vital to maintaining overall health for you or the senior in your life, and the opportunities for leveraging technology to support this effort are plenty. Embrace this chance to bring a social touch (without the physical contact!) back into your life.
For information about what the team at United Methodist Homes Assisted and Independent Living is doing to address concerns related to COVID-19, please call us directly at (877) 929-5321.
About Elizabeth Bemis
In 1998, I drove past an assisted living community construction site, learned that it was part of United Methodist Homes and realized the next stop on my professional journey was to work for a mission driven organization. Soon after, I joined the team as Executive Director of our Middlewoods of Farmington community and later served as Regional Manager for the Middlewoods properties before accepting my current role as Vice President of Marketing, Promotions, and Assisted Living Operations. I enjoy spending time with my family, cooking, reading, walking, and love working alongside our staff, residents, and families to build strong communities that reflect the mission, vision, and values of United Methodist Homes.
Our Blog is a 2016 Platinum Generations Award Winner! The Generations Award is an annual international competition for excellence in senior marketing recognizing professionals who have communicated to the 50+ Mature Markets.