By Chris Holbert
For months many seniors have been staying at home avoiding visits with family and friends to limit their exposure and reduce the potential of contracting COVID-19. Others who live in nursing homes or care facilities have only been able to talk to family on the phone or through a closed window. Normal activities like going to the grocery store, eating out at restaurants, participating in clubs and working part-time jobs have had to be given up. And the result has been an increase of feelings of isolation and loneliness, which are having a negative impact on senior’s physical and mental health.
According to a report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, that was released in February just before seniors started self-isolating, isolation is linked to significantly higher rates of heart disease and stroke. It can also cause a 50 percent increased risk of dementia and shorten lifespan similar to the rates associated with smoking, obesity, excessive alcohol consumption and physical inactivity.
Until there is a vaccine, seniors may need to continue to limit their social interactions, at least physically. The challenge for caregivers, family members, friends and loved ones is how to continue to find creative ways to stay connected and make seniors feel like they are still part of society.
Technology can seem to shorten physical distance when it is not possible to be together. It can also monitor habits, environment and activity to help ensure safety. A connection can be made with something as simple as a phone call, but it is also capable of much more.
Create a digital adventure. If you are able to venture back out to restaurants, take a road trip, visit an amusement park and start to return to normal life, capture it on video and bring the senior in your life along with you. Make the video for your friend or loved one. Create a photo cut out of the person and attach it to a paint stick. Have the photo make appearances throughout your video and narrate it so it seems like the person is there with you. While your friend or loved one may feel disappointed being on the adventure in-person wasn’t possible, the thought and effort behind the video will make him or her feel included and present.
Do hobbies, projects virtually together. Set up a daily or weekly time that you can get together via video call to do something you enjoy together. This can be working on a crossword puzzle, gardening, trying out a new recipe or reading a book together and having discussions about it.
Go on a shopping spree. Spending a day browsing the racks and shelves at local stores might not be possible. But you can get online together and chat on the phone while looking at clothes, home goods and other items either of you need or want to buy. When items arrive in the mail set up a video call to show off the new items to each other.
If social isolation is making it challenging for a senior to receive care, is impacting mental or physical health technology can also help provide solutions for improved safety. Investigate technologies that could benefit the senior in your life and have them shipped to yourself so you can set up the device and learn how to use it first in case your friend or loved one needs assistance after receiving it. Some options could be a smart pill dispenser that gives voice reminders to take prescriptions and supplements, an mPERS device that can be worn to track location and that can be activated to place a call with the push of a single button if there is an emergency, or even a smart watch that can monitor health. A smart speaker could also function as a companion between phone calls, video calls or distanced outdoor visits if a senior feels lonely. Set up the speaker with quiz games, favorite music channels, and other features the senior can easily control with his or her voice.
There are many ways technology can help bring people together when they need to physically distance. It might take a little creativity and legwork to pull off, but until everyone can connect again in-person, hug and return to normal activities the effort will be well worth it. After all it could mean the difference between a senior feeling lonely and depressed or cared for and happy.
Chris Holbert is the CEO of SecuraTrac. As the CEO, he is responsible for leading the company’s vision of developing, marketing, and selling a suite of mobile health and safety solutions that bring families closer together and improve employee safety through state-of-the-art location-based services and mobile health technology.