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While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact our communities, physical distancing remains the order of the day — especially for older adults. But socializing is a basic human need, and studies show it contributes to better physical and emotional health. Isolation, on the other hand, is linked to depression, anxiety, cognitive decline, a weakened immune system, and high blood pressure, among other maladies. Seniors must seek out ways to connect with others while minimizing their exposure to the coronavirus.
Video conferencing using FaceTime, Zoom and other programs on smartphones, tablets or computers has become a popular way to ‘gather’ with family and friends. Getting started on the programs may be challenging for seniors new to technology; call a tech-savvy neighbor, friend or family member to coach you through the process. Phones, whether ‘smart’ or landline, are also excellent for staying in touch; some people feel more comfortable conversing without being on camera. People can call in to join a Zoom conversation.
If tech is not your thing, consider making connections the way people have for centuries: through letter-writing. Handwriting (or typing) letters allows you to process thoughts and feelings and create a bond with the recipient. Mailing or delivering ‘thinking of you’ cards is a thoughtful way to remind recipients they are not forgotten.
Many social groups, including religious communities, are hosting online gatherings. An organization called Senior Planet offers free access to virtual exercise classes. Online learning opportunities also abound. Platforms such as coursera.org and edX.org offer both free and fee options. Courses, which may be live-streamed, self-paced, or some combination, are taught by university professors. The Osher Lifelong Learning Center at Rutgers University is running more than 30 online courses during its summer session, and registration will begin soon for the fall. Anyone age 50 and over can study areas of interest with no assignments or grades.
The Virtual Senior Center run by the nonprofit Selfhelp Community Services is an online community of seniors who take courses, enjoy cultural experiences and discuss topics of interest in real time over their home computers and tablets. While volunteer opportunities are harder to come by during the pandemic, some organizations are seeking virtual helpers. The nonprofit Points of Light maintains a list of virtual volunteer opportunities.
Seniors can socialize in person, as long as you take precautions. Walking, running or biking with a friend is a great way to stay both fit and connected. Keep at least a six-foot distance, and wear a mask if you’re unable to maintain that distance. Some senior citizen groups offer fitness classes either outdoors or indoors, with participants well spaced and other safety measures in place. Picnicking with a couple of friends or family members is a fun way to spend the day, but be sure to wear masks when not eating. Use hand sanitizer, especially if you’re sharing any utensils.
The pandemic is taking a toll on us all. To get through it, we have to make self-care part of our daily routine, and that includes staying connected with others. If you are struggling, contact NewBridge Services at 973-316-9333 to schedule a telehealth counseling session. The Institute on Aging has a Friendship Line at 1-800-971-0016 that is both a crisis intervention hotline and a nonemergency warmline for emotional support. Check out NewBridge’s summer newsletter created specifically for seniors for more information and advice.