Supporting seniors in the ‘new normal’: Tips for combating social isolation and loneliness

For many Americans, life today feels typical — we’re back in school, returning to the office and are enjoying our hobbies and social lives. Connecting in-person with friends and family is once again a regular part of our routine.

Unfortunately, seniors (those aged 55+) have been more isolated than younger demographics during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Restricted visitation in assisted and long-term care facilities, lack of community events and lesser access to digital social networks has led to an increased amount of social isolation among the aging population.

Even prior to the pandemic, 1 in 4 senior adults were socially isolated, according to the National Institute on Aging. Then in August 2021 a report published by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that the prevalence of anxiety symptoms and depression among older adults increased significantly during the pandemic. Now, The Walgreens COVID-19 Pulse Check, a quantitative study commissioned by the healthcare retailer, reveals that an estimated 17 million (42%) of seniors agreed they are less socially active now than they were before the pandemic. Additionally, an estimated 8.2 million (20%) of seniors feel lonelier now than before the pandemic.

Luckily, there are tools caregivers can use to ease the physical and mental effects of social isolation among seniors. Finding safe ways to connect with the elderly and engage them in the latest happenings can do a world of good for those who might be feeling left behind.

Here are some top tips for supporting your aging loved ones in our ‘new normal.’

Prioritize connecting consistently

Does the senior in your life know how to video chat? Conversations held face-to-face — even through cell phones — can make a huge difference in decreasing feelings of loneliness. Consider listing out instructions for loved ones to follow so they can practice this skill and ‘see’ what’s going on virtually in your day-to-day life. Do they prefer to connect the old-fashioned way? Set up a weekly phone call or send friendly notes and gifts through the mail. Reminders that they are loved, appreciated and in your thoughts can boost serotonin and help them feel a sense of inclusion. You could also consider local volunteering opportunities in the community to help create ‘in real life’ experiences with like-minded seniors. Look online for nearby groups or organizations and offer to be their taxi service to help them get there with confidence.

Encourage shopping with confidence

Part of feeling back in the swing of things is the ability to run errands and take care of day-to-day tasks. To make seniors feel comfortable when, say, shopping, look to stores that offer safe, accessible ways to make purchases. Trusted healthcare destination Walgreens hosts Seniors Day the first Tuesday of every month where senior shoppers 55 and older and caregivers receive a 20% discount off eligible regular-priced merchandise, including health essentials like Walgreens at-home COVID-19 tests and Free and Pure vitamins and even their favorite snacks and treats! At checkout, seniors should let a team member know they are shopping with the Seniors Day discount to apply the savings. They can also benefit from the discount online all week with code SENIOR20 at checkout (Sunday-Saturday of that week). Whether joining someone on a Seniors Day shopping trip or assisting them with placing an online order, Walgreens enables safe, senior-friendly shopping in a variety of ways.

Create welcoming and safe social spaces

COVID-19, now shifting to an endemic stage in the eyes of the federal U.S. government, is still contagious and can be more dangerous for immunocompromised people like our senior population. Take proactive safety measures to make sure all guests, especially seniors, are comfortable when gathering socially. Hosts should ensure seniors have transportation to and from the event and ask attendees to take an at-home COVID-19 test prior to arrival. Furthermore, seniors and their loved ones should take at-home COVID-19 tests regularly to best maintain a safe ‘bubble’ for socializing. Walgreens now offers their own at-home COVID-19 test available for purchase at a great everyday value. Be sure to arrange the event space in a way that makes social distancing possible and have hand sanitizer readily available. When possible, consider also offering programming in outdoor or large spaces — gardening or even a stop to a local art museum make for a great, distanced gathering. Just know that the more preparation you do, the more inclined a senior may be to join in on the socializing fun and ‘new normal’ we are learning to embrace.

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