Physical Distancing Does Not Mean Social Isolation

Physical Distancing Does Not Mean Social Isolation
by Beth Brodsky

Many countries like Canada were already aware of the risks older adults experienced from social isolation and loneliness. Risks included depression, poor general health, and more.

Physical distancing in the time of coronavirus does not have to mean social isolation. Below are strategies from around the world on how older adults are finding social connection in a time of unprecedented physical isolation.

Food and Necessities
Older adults should get connected to grocery delivery services or offer to deliver groceries to affected neighbors. The Australian Department of Health is providing Meals on Wheels for homebound older adults to satisfy vital meal delivery. LeadingAge collected responses of how care providers are managing food delivery like taking orders in advance. Some countries are acknowledging the reality that some people do not live in a situation where they can self-isolate. For those who cannot self-isolate in South Africa’s lockdown, cooking with family can still provide sustenance.

Different considerations are being made for seniors who still must independently obtain necessities. HelpAge International shared a list of strategies on how to prevent contagion for those who still need to collect pension or make their way to a pay point. A Peruvian bank accommodated seniors with seating for those who arrived to wait in line. Canada’s public health services are encouraging community leaders, like elders, spiritual leaders, educators, non-public health groups to transmit accurate messages where there is a trust-based relationship with the community.

Use conference calls to stay connected. The International Institute of Malta is encouraging friends and family to take advantage of video conferencing platforms. Providers can offer seniors phones or other technologies if they do not already have their own. For older adults with access to technology, the UK’s Social Care Institute for Excellence suggests social workers take advantage of these digital connections on video conferencing platforms like Zoom, Facetime, WeChat, Skype, and Google Hangouts. One woman in the United States celebrated her 60th anniversary over Skype. Other online messaging platforms in use are Marco Polo, Signal, Houseparty, Viber, Line, IMO, Telegram, and more.

For older adults who may need accommodations, Linggo App can help those who are having difficulty with speech communicate. A Global Ageing Network member, the Center for Aging + Brain Health Innovation (CABHI), released an evidence-based app, COMPAs, to support communication between people living with dementia, their family members, and caregivers. Timiskaminghu holds daily phone-based activities through Seniors’ Centre Without Walls.  In the United States, some states are offering daily phone calls to monitor if older adults need a wellness check. Dementia Friendly Communities have a list of resources that allow engagement of those with dementia.

Visual art, music, and games are forms of culture that individuals can participate in to stay connected. CABHI suggests five things older adults can do to remain connected and prevent social isolation, while still keeping physical safety. One includes connecting with a Virtual Art Gallery like the Wellzesta app, an online recreation activity geared toward those with cognitive decline. For those without an online connection and have no indoor museums to visit, a quick trip outdoors can allow site-seeing for street art and other murals.

Those with internet connections can watch musical concerts online. CABHI recommends the Metropolitan Opera. You can also check out other online platforms for professional and amateur virtual orchestras.

For adults without an online connection, neighbors can sing from their homes. Italy’s spontaneous neighborhood concerts have connected people who are forced to stay indoors from the crisis. LeadingAge collected a list of how American providers are engaging residents through singing, games, and more.

If you have more tips on how to increase social connection during COVID-19 physical distancing, please share with our network by emailing