The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has been challenging for all demographics. For seniors in the West Seattle area, however, the detrimental impact is twofold in that this demographic is particularly at-risk of the virus, as well as the self-isolation begat by the statewide Stay Home, Stay Healthy order.
In an attempt to shield older adults and individuals with pre-existing health conditions from the risk of catching the virus, extreme measures have been taken to keep them isolated or quarantined.
How Has COVID-19 Impacted Seniors?
Although the COVID-19 pandemic was well underway at the start of the year, it didn’t seem to hit home in the West Seattle area until March, when the statewide response came abruptly and unexpectedly. Suddenly, everything was shut down, including the various social activities and gatherings you rely on to get you out of the house and stay connected to your friends, family, and neighbors.
Community centers, places of worship, restaurants, stores, and gyms were, and in some cases still are, temporarily closed. Most senior living communities that offer assisted living, independent living, and respite care also put restrictions on visitors—even immediate family members. Meanwhile, non-essential social services were stymied. As a result of these precautions, the mental and physical health consequences stemming from loneliness, grief, isolation, and seclusion have worsened among seniors.
What Causes Social Isolation for Seniors?
It’s common and completely natural to experience isolation and loneliness as you age. Your life undergoes dramatic changes, such as retiring from your job, and losing the social connections that go along with it, and experiencing your children growing up, leaving home, and potentially moving far away. Meanwhile, certain health conditions that accompany aging may prevent you from engaging in various hobbies or activities you enjoyed in your younger years. In short, this may be a period of intense transition. Additionally, research shows adults with physical or cognitive limitations and chronic health conditions are more than twice as likely to report feeling isolated.
Then came COVID-19, and social distancing worsened the quality of life for more than one in four adults ages 50 to 80 who said they felt isolated even before the outbreak, while increasing the risk of loneliness for others. The fact that older adults and individuals with underlying medical conditions are the same demographics that are most at risk of developing severe cases of COVID-19 has created the perfect storm for a troubling situation with no end yet in sight.
Health Problems Associated with Social Isolation
In terms of senior health care issues, social isolation is among the most serious and pressing because it is widespread, difficult to recognize, and often detrimental. Many mental, emotional, and physical health problems have been linked to social isolation and loneliness, including:
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Respiratory diseases
- Poor sleep quality
- High blood pressure
The health damage social isolation can cause is estimated to increase the risk of early death by 26%. Additionally, if you’re isolated, you are less likely to visit your Social Security office or look into beneficial programs for seniors, which means you may not be getting the important resources you need and for which you are eligible. Isolation also often results in not receiving proper medical attention in a timely manner, causing minor illnesses and injuries to worsen. Individually and collectively, these problems factor into decreasing your overall quality of life.
How to Address Social Isolation Among Seniors
The COVID-19 crisis has provided further confirmation of the senior health issues, both physical and mental, caused by social isolation and loneliness. Interventions that can effectively help with this pervasive issue include online technologies and digital solutions that enable you to stay connected to your friends and family members, even if they live far away or you’re abiding by unexpected stay-at-home orders that prohibit in-person visits. Frequent telephone and video calls with your loved ones are especially helpful if you're living at home.
If you’re experiencing extreme symptoms from social isolation, you may want to seek professional intervention through counseling or peer-support groups.
One of the best interventions, however, includes increasing your opportunities to develop meaningful relationships and interact with your peers on a daily basis. Senior living communities in West Seattle, such as Daystar Retirement Village, are one such solution.
On campus, you have access to a full schedule of classes, activities and events, which give you the chance to develop a new hobby while also spending time with like-minded, interesting individuals. Although they are temporarily being brought to residents, rather than hosted in communal areas to prevent group gatherings, they provide important social interaction to help alleviate loneliness and improve your mental health and quality of life. Daystar has also implemented an array of special programs to engage and entertain residents during COVID-19. In time, you will be able to once again take advantage of community facilities, group outings, and eating meals in the dining room.
Whether you’re looking for senior living that makes it easier for you to continue your active, independent lifestyle or a comfortable living situation combined with important health and personal services, Daystar offers a variety of accommodations to meet your needs and preferences during this phase of life.
“20 Facts about Senior Isolation That Will Stun You.” A Place for Mom. Accessed online at https://www.aplaceformom.com/blog/10-17-14-facts-about-senior-isolation/
“Senior Isolation: America’s Quietest Health Risk.” MedicareAdvantage.com. Accessed online at https://www.medicareadvantage.com/senior-isolation#:~:text=Senior%20Isolation%20Is%20a%20Serious,lonely%20on%20a%20regular%20basis
“How the COVID-19 Pandemic Could Increase Social Isolation, and How Providers and Policymakers Can Keep Us Connected.” The Commonwealth Fund, To the Point. Accessed online at https://www.commonwealthfund.org/blog/2020/how-covid-19-pandemic-could-increase-social-isolation-and-how-providers-and-policymakers
“COVID-19 and the consequences of isolating the elderly.” Armitage R, Nellums LB. Lancet Public Health. 2020;5(5):e256. doi:10.1016/S2468-2667(20)30061-X