Five Steps For Dealing With Social Isolation

Style Magazine Newswire | 3/23/2020, 2:57 p.m.

In downtown Austin, a hopeful message can be seen on a movie theater marquee. It reads: “IN ORDER FOR US TO BE ALL TOGETHER, FOR NOW WE MUST REMAIN APART.”

By now, you’ve gotten the message: Voluntary social distancing is key to mitigating the spread of COVID-19. And for most of us, lying low for a while should be a small sacrifice to make for the greater good of everyone. Still, separating ourselves from one another is not without its challenges. And it’s useful to remember that chronic social isolation, particularly among older adults, can be unhealthy.

“Being socially isolated can be unhealthy,” said Amanda Fredriksen, an associate state director for advocacy and outreach at AARP Texas. “We know that people who are socially isolated, particularly older adults, have a significant risk of early death, as well as dementia and heart disease.”

There are academic studies on the subject of socially isolated adults. AARP reports have stated that social isolation significantly increases the risk of death among older adults. In fact, one study has likened the detrimental health effects of isolation to those associated with smoking up to 15 cigarettes every day.

Social isolation is more common among older folks. They are more likely to live alone. They may have experienced the loss of a spouse or friend, and they are more likely to have chronic health issues that limit mobility to inside their house.

Combating isolation is essential during this time, but being physically surrounded by others isn’t necessarily the only answer. Here are some ways that can help everyone contend with isolation in their own homes.

1. Make use of what you have

We live in a world interconnected by technology. “Making use of video technology with smart phones and computers is a great way to connect with family and friends,” said Fredriksen. There are also other ways to stay busy online. Many websites offer free subscriptions to watch movies, or you can rent a book online. If you feel comfortable using the Internet, digital applications like social media, or video phone calls with friends and loved ones may help.

2. Pick up the phone and call a friend

For those who don’t have internet access, a phone call can be an alternative to using social media. “Everybody seems to have a little more time right now. So why not take the time to connect with some folks you haven’t had a chance to talk to lately?” Fredriksen encourages others to not feel shy about reaching out to people that you don’t get to talk to on a regular basis.

3. Get up and move!

Social isolation doesn’t mean you can’t continue to be active. However, a lot depends on where you live and how vulnerable you are. “If you can safely get out and stretch your legs, walk to the mailbox, walk in your neighborhood… that’s good,” she said. “But for some people, that may just mean taking a walk around your yard.” said Fredriksen. Just don’t forget to keep a six-foot (or more) distance between you and others.