Social isolation is a way of life for millions of seniors – and has been since long before this global crisis began. Over 9 million American seniors were living in isolation before COVID-19, and the physical distancing required to slow the spread of the virus has created an exponential increase in that number.
The pandemic has had catastrophic effects on our society that are impacting every segment of the population. No group, however, is more susceptible to the loneliness and the sometimes deadly repercussions that accompany social isolation than seniors.
Social isolation is not only emotionally painful, but it is linked to an increased risk of a wide variety of health conditions, including high blood pressure, heart disease and even death. In fact, lonely people are 50 percent more likely to die prematurely than those who maintain healthy social relationships.
Connection to community is a necessary ingredient we all need to survive and thrive. Yet as we age, we often find ourselves living alone, which makes seniors even more vulnerable to isolation and its associated negative health risks.
One thing is certain: Meals on Wheels has always been there to serve seniors with a meal and a friendly hello. And we continue to show up and serve a growing list of clients during this crisis. Our home meal delivery and check-ins create a vital lifeline for seniors, now more than ever. Our programs quickly adjusted to the impacts of the virus to keep both our homebound clients and the volunteers who serve them safe. Here are a few ways we have adapted to make sure that no senior is forgotten.
HOW MEALS ON WHEELS PROGRAMS ARE STAYING CONNECTED WITH SENIORS
Telephone check-ins. Meals on Wheels of Rowan County, North Carolina now must drop meals off at the door, so they found a way to provide a bit of socialization remotely. Through their “Comfort Calls” program, volunteers call clients daily to check in, say hello and make sure they are OK.
New volunteers. Because many Meals on Wheels volunteers are older, they are themselves in the COVID-19 high-risk category. While they remain in their homes to stay safe, many younger volunteers, finding themselves with more time on their hands, have stepped in to help.
Community email, letters and cards. Senior Coastsiders in Half Moon Bay, CA created an email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) to enable their entire community (including schools using it as a class project) to send messages of encouragement, stories and photos. The contents are photographed and printed out to be included with meals.
Volunteers wave from the car and seniors wave from the door. While we can’t give a hug right now, it’s still important to be able to see seniors in-person to check on them and send additional care, if needed. Therefore, we still make sure to connect -- even though the best we can sometimes do is a friendly wave from the car.
Programs try new ways to connect seniors. Covia’s Well Connected program helps seniors connect with each other -- one-on-one and in groups via telephone conference calls. This way, seniors who share similar interests can gain some valuable peer time together.
While COVID-19 has forced us to distance physically, we remain resolute that we will not allow our seniors to distance socially. Meals on Wheels America is committed to providing seniors both the meals and connection they need to thrive in their communities, now and for years to come.
To learn more about the work being done to keep seniors safe amid COVID-19, click here.