As COVID-19 continues to stalk the world, many of us will be celebrating Thanksgiving and other holidays differently this year. With large family gatherings cancelled, we’ll have to find other ways to celebrate. This will be especially hard on older people, who already suffer from loneliness in many cases.
- Loneliness doubled among older adults during the first months of the coronavirus pandemic.
- In June 2020, 46% of older adults reported infrequent social contact (once a week or less), compared to 28% in 2018.
- Loneliness was especially severe among people who lived alone, those who were not working, people in poor health, and those at the bottom of the income scale.
The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) notes that loneliness can have serious health consequences. Recent research indicates that social isolation is associated with a significantly increased risk for early death from all causes. This risk is calculated as being equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. People 60 and over and those with severe chronic health conditions are in even greater danger of developing illness from COVID-19.
Elderly adults can fight isolation in many ways. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that we celebrate holidays virtually this year. Seniors might find it a bit daunting to learn how to use online tools such as Facebook, Zoom, and FaceTime, but it’s worth the effort.
- Limit the number of attendees as much as possible.
- Require guests to wear masks at all times.
- Increase ventilation by opening windows.
- Encourage guests to avoid singing or shouting.
- Ask guests to frequently wash their hands for at least 20 seconds.
- Clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces regularly.
- Use touchless garbage cans if available.
The December 2020 issue of Consumer Reports adds this advice:
- Position seating so that it preserves social distancing. This can be “as easy as adding a seat cushion to a metal or plastic folding chair.”
- Keep your holiday dinners simple.
- Celebrate outdoors if possible. You might use a patio heater to warm things up.
The important thing to remember is that loneliness poses a serious threat to older people. This holiday season, they shouldn’t ignore their isolation or suppress their emotions about it. Despite the pandemic, they should do everything they can to reach out to friends and loved ones, while also taking steps to protect themselves from illness.
In this case, awareness leads to improved health and happiness – so stay aware!