As we all do our part to flatten the curve of COVID-19’s global impact, most of us find ourselves self-quarantined in our homes. While self-quarantine is the best thing to do to stay healthy, it can also come with challenges, especially for vulnerable populations. Many older adults are at risk of isolation during this time, especially if they are alone. For many individuals, social interaction and physical touch can be reduced to just minutes per day, if at all. According to AARP, loneliness and isolation “affect a significant proportion of adults in the United States and have been calculated as being the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day.” Long-term isolation can have serious effects on an individual’s health both physically and mentally.
Effects of Isolation on Mental and Physical Health for Seniors
The symptoms of long-term isolation can present themselves slowly and can be difficult to identify, especially in yourself. That’s why it’s so important to check in with yourself each day and assess how you’re feeling. If you experience any of these symptoms or effects of isolation, you should contact your doctor or healthcare provider right away to get the treatment you need. According to Lifeline Crisis Support, here are some of the most common effects of long-term isolation.
- Physical Symptoms – You might notice your pre-existing conditions worsening or the development of new conditions. Headaches, aches and pains, and sudden illness are all common physical symptoms of long-term isolation.
- Mental Health Conditions – During periods of isolation, you are more at risk of depression, anxiety, and panic attacks, especially if you have experienced these conditions before.
- Interrupted Sleep Patterns – You might experience difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or even sleeping too much. These interrupted sleep patterns can cause you to feel tired, fatigued, and generally disinterested.
- Changes in Diet – Isolation can cause loss of appetite, which results in sudden weight gain or loss. If you experience these changes, it’s important to notify your doctor quickly.
- Substance Abuse – To deal with the stress of isolation, it’s not uncommon for adults to increase their consumption of alcohol, tobacco, medications, and drugs. If you have a history of substance abuse and are experiencing long-term isolation, be sure to have a support plan in place.
- Negative or Depressed Feelings – Long-term isolation can provoke feelings of hopelessness and disinterest.
How to Stay Connected during Social Isolation
While we’re navigating these difficult times, the thought of being unable to see our loved ones adds another level of challenge and stress. However, there are many alternatives to help you stay connected to your family and friends from the comfort of your own home while decreasing your risk of feeling isolated.
While there’s no replacement for hugging your family and friends and spending time connecting in person, there is an alternative that can help you stay connected while also staying healthy. Many people are using video conferencing platforms to speak with their loved ones while also being able to see their faces. Applications like Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp, and Google Hangouts are video-enabled platforms that are great for chatting with either one person or large groups. FaceTime is great for Apple products, while Skype, Zoom, and Google Hangouts are accessible on all devices. If you have a loved one who is living abroad, you might consider using WhatsApp.
Who says you can’t have fun in self-quarantine? There are a wide variety of online platforms that allow you to have virtual parties with your friends and family no matter where they live. These services allow you to watch movies or play games with your loved ones online.
- Houseparty – While this application isn’t exactly new, it has become more popular in the past few weeks. While video chatting is a great way to stay connected, Houseparty allows you to video chat while providing entertainment for your group. This app allows you to play games with your group, such as Heads Up, Trivia, Quick Draw, and many others.
- Watch Party – Facebook offers a feature that allows its users to watch Facebook videos together. Users can watch videos together in real time while writing and sharing their comments and reactions with their friends. Here are some tips to keep in mind while using.
- Netflix Party – Watching movies is a great way to spend your time indoors, but sometimes it can get lonely watching by yourself. That’s why Netflix created an extension called Netflix Party, which allows its users to type text into a chat box while watching.
Ways to Learn Online
You might be looking for ways to mix up your day and stay busy. This is a great time to learn new skills and utilize online learning tools. While learning is something you can do alone, it can also help you feel part of a community, especially if you find a friend to learn along with you. If you’re looking for a new e-book for your Kindle, check out Amazon, or buy a new book from Oprah’s Book Club. You might even consider starting a book club with your friends and using a video chat to discuss your thoughts.
There are so many ways to learn by using the computer. If you like learning about new topics, you might consider listening to a talk on TED. You can choose from a variety of lectures on hundreds of topics. Other platforms like Teachable and Coursera offer college-level courses free of charge, and you can also buy a membership for more access. Choose a course to take with a friend and call each other after to discuss what you’ve learned.
How to Build an Online Community
The best way to decrease your risk of isolation is to find ways to build your community of support. Whether you’re video chatting or watching a movie with a friend, the more you interact with others, the less likely you will feel isolated. For times like these, the best way to build a community is by utilizing technology.
Facebook and Instagram allow users to post pictures and videos while allowing friends and family to comment and leave their well wishes. You might also consider starting an email chain with family and friends to stay updated on new life happenings. Group text messages are also a great way to share how you’re feeling and what you’ve been doing each day.
At Inspīr Modern Senior Living, we are offering suggestions, resources, and online learning experiences to help people stay entertained and connected. Join us for our webinar on Life Storytelling on May 1 or join our ongoing virtual book club. If you’d like to learn more about our offerings, or to schedule a virtual tour, please contact us.