The holidays are usually a time to gather with family and friends. Our calendars fill up with parties and other social outings. We celebrate with our loved ones. We reflect on the past year and look forward to the future.
But the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has led to months of physical distancing as we work together to slow the spread of the virus. This has sparked feelings of loneliness in many people. Including seniors, who may be at risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
43 percent of seniors say they feel lonely on a regular basis. According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), about 20 percent of adults who are at least 65 years old live alone. Those who are lonely can suffer from health problems as a result.
The health effects of social isolation
In her 2015 study on public health and loneliness, Brigham Young University Professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad said social isolation can be as damaging to one’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. And according to the NIA, research has also linked loneliness to high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weaker immune system, depression, anxiety and dementia.
Having loved ones around often encourages people to take better care of themselves. Including eating well, exercising and taking necessary medications.
Living alone and not leaving the house on a regular basis are two major things that can cause loneliness in seniors.
How you can help
Feeling connected to others is key. And these days, many of these connections are happening virtually. Thanks to FaceTime, Zoom and Skype, staying in touch is easier than ever. If you have an older family member or friend who wants to learn to use the new technology, set up some time to explain to them how it works.
Or, simply give them a call. Chat with them about their worries and concerns. Let them know you are thinking of them.
This year has been like no other. This holiday season will be no exception. The best gift you could give during the holidays or any day is to reach out to those who may be feeling lonely. Offer them connection and companionship. It costs nothing, and you’ll brighten someone’s day.
Lil Banchero is the senior director of Luminis Health AAMC’s Institute for Healthy Aging.