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Tips to Mitigate Social Isolation

Last week we discussed the effects of social isolation on the elderly. As a followup, here are strategies to help mitigate those effects.

We can all agree that our beloved elderly and our dear ones with Alzheimer’s Disease need attention at this perilous time; but what can we (families, workers, and nursing home staff) possibly do, that we’re not already doing, to make a real impact and to show we care? Here are 8 tips on keeping seniors, especially those in nursing homes, engaged, active, and healthy:

  1. Create a Routine
    It’s easy to get disoriented and confused when we don’t have our daily activities planned. Even if we don’t tack it down to the last detail, we often have a general idea of what we want to accomplish on a particular day (laundry on Tuesday, grocery shopping Wednesday, visiting Mom on Saturday, etc.). The same goes for seniors, who may benefit from a more predictable cycle to make them feel in control of their activities and stable and secure in their environment. It also reduces stress for those struggling with cognitive or memory-related illnesses, to be able to anticipate what’s next.
  2. Plan Regular Communication with Friends & Family
    During this health crisis, physical distancing need not mean social distancing. Thankfully, technology has come a long way since the last pandemic, where one could only reach out to loved ones by putting oneself or others in danger of infection. With apps such as Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, or any of the other streaming communication platforms, Grandma need not feel left out as she watches Jake celebrate his birthday, or Zoe take her first steps. She can be free to chat with family and friends about the latest gossip, share recipes, attend a virtual cookout, or discuss the day’s activities. Actively watching daily life at a loved one’s house, feeling a part of it, may help Grandma deal with what the rest of her day has to offer.
  3. Art & Music Therapy
    The creative art therapies are well known for their health benefits to the brain and such pursuits are highly encouraged by experts. Today, there are many organizations that conduct virtual classes where folks with varying levels of capability can engage in creative art therapies such as music therapy and art therapy. When a virtual environment isn’t desirable, packaged art lessons (ART2GO) or simply a supply of creative materials can be implemented at home. Such lessons may be a ray of sunshine on an otherwise bleak day or lackluster week and are a positive way to help loved ones reap the benefits of creative expression.
  4. Outdoor Time
    Fresh air is free! Lush summertime is the perfect time for a comfortable walk around the grounds or, if at home, across the yard. Try some light exercise or stretching. Connecting with nature is spiritually and physically restorative, offering a host of benefits such as stress reduction and renewed vigor. The sound of running water, for instance, is a “white noise,” inspiring each listener to hear something different. The gentle song of water washing over you can help you let go of stressors and experience life in the moment.1 Seniors in their own homes can try to safely do the same, either in their backyards or on regular neighborhood strolls. Don’t forget to wear your mask!
  5. Recording/Writing Life Experiences
    Some of our ancestors have their memories relegated to diaries and books. Others pass from this world without having documented any of those pearls of wisdom. The fact that so few of us have time to sit down and glean anecdotes from our loved ones leaves many untold gems lost to future generations. But modern technology can now enable our parents, grandparents, and other relatives to re-live and record moments and experiences they endured and celebrated, to keep them alive forever. According to a friend, “My grandmother, suffering the last stages of dementia, was barely able to remember her own children, but was able to accurately recall the sights and smells of rural Africa where she lived after her marriage, and we loved to listen to the story of the viper who was curiously curled around my aunt’s bed in the dark hours of night before my grandmother spotted it and killed it.” Stories give such a depth of perspective and humanity to a generation that may keep a quiet modesty or may be withdrawn with age. Using voice recorders or even writing journals can benefit cognitive abilities and both long and short term memory as well as offer an heirloom for the family.
  6. Never Underestimate the Power of Furry Friends: Pet Therapy
    As French author, Colette, so aptly put it, “Our perfect companions never have fewer than four feet.” Trained therapy or service animals (pre-screened for health risks before entering a nursing facility) provide immeasurable benefit for nursing home residents. Research has shown that stress levels and heart rates of residents and patients reach a far friendlier level after interaction with therapy animals. Simply watching turtles race along the corridor will cheer folks, sports fans and non-sports fans alike!
  7. Small Spa Packages
    Everyone likes feeling beautiful, regardless of gender and age. Imagine the surprise and delight of a loved one who receives a spa gift every month: unwrapping delicious smelling salts or aromatherapy vials, a cute soap-of-the-month or a new hand lotion, a favorite lipstick or aftershave cologne sample. These small tokens won’t cost much and they can be dressed up in gift boxes to bring an instant smile (not to mention those heavenly aromas!) and even spark past memories which may be triggered by smell.
  8. Books, Audiobooks, and Music
    Just as scent can be a strong trigger for memories, so can the written word. Books from our childhood can still inspire and help reconnect us back to a different time, a different place. When eyesight is a challenge, there are free library services, which offer audiobook downloads in many different genres. Audio facilitates a whole different range of sensory connections that open a three-dimensional world; the imagination soars with the images inspired by stories and legends, tales of other lands and other cultures! Likewise, favorite pieces of music have the ability to transport us, whether to Carnegie Hall or to a rock concert from the ‘60’s. Just relaxing to the strains of Moonlight Sonata should be enough to drop stress levels and have us breathing evenly.

“Humans are social animals after all,” as Aristotle famously claimed, “and their evolution and survival has always depended on being part of a group, a tribe, a village—a community.” Quarantining the human spirit is not natural; nor are the outcomes that will eventually shape our most vulnerable and valuable. It is up to us to help them cope with today’s world and ease their transition into a hopefully better and brighter post-pandemic era.

References:
1. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/200109/waters-wonders