The world is learning a valuable lesson in experiencing the isolation that many elderly people have been living for the past several years.

Towards the beginning of March people aged between 60 and 70 recoiled at the rumours that they, and those with serious underlying health conditions, would be required to socially isolate from others for up to 12 weeks. In some cases, elderly people have been in their own self isolation for several years and know only too well the emotional and health implications that can occur.

Above: Some of those most at risk have been inside for approximately eleven weeks now.

Whilst this practice is a vital step towards slowing and preventing the spread of the virus in healthy and vulnerable people alike, several organisations are calling for awareness around the subject. Westgate Healthcare, the NHS, Age Concern, Age UK and a plethora of other health and wellbeing organisations are doing what they can to lessen the negative impacts of loneliness and isolation. According to Age UK, a list of health and mental health problems can be sparked in anyone being deprived of social contact. “Depression, anxiety, weaker immune systems, susceptible to illness and colds, develop dementia, develop cardiovascular disease” and can even reduce life expectancy.

What is Isolation or ‘Social Isolation’?

Social isolation is the independent isolation of an individual from society. In relation to the current pandemic this has rendered the individual isolated from society, but also society isolated from society, leaving just the individual. This current situation is hyperbolic in nature and unprecedented in human history, and this uncertainty and confusion is another contributing factor to the depression and social withdrawal that people are developing. Enforced by the government, it’s being used to stop the human to human transmission that has spread the virus so quickly. This, as a method, is not bad or destructive to health, but the independence it promotes can impact those who felt lonely before the eruption of the pandemic.

Even in normality, the elderly are far more likely to suffer from loneliness and are less familiar with digital communication. According to Age UK and Age Scotland, there are 1.5 million chronically lonely elderly people in the UK and a further half a million people spend five or six days a week alone. The aforementioned organisations are conforming with the NHS guidelines, but have warned about the stresses this could cause on those who need help with practical tasks, such as food shopping or caring for themselves medically.

Brian Sloan, Chief Executive of Age Scotland, stated:

“We know that older people and those with underlying health conditions may feel more vulnerable during the coronavirus outbreak and as a result they might choose not to go out and socialise as much as they would normally.”

“We would urge people who are well and have had no contact with others from high risk parts of the world to think about older people in their community who might be feeling anxious and alone.”

“Some older people will be having fewer visitors from family who live further afield, because they are unable to travel, so a friendly call or knock on the door could make a huge difference to their day.”

“Being a good neighbour by checking in with vulnerable older people to offer to pop to the shops for them or pick up medication will go a long way to reducing loneliness and isolation. It will also help bring communities together at a challenging time for everyone.”

Along with this, the organisation as a whole, have published 10 top tips for combating loneliness during the pandemic.

  • STAY IN TOUCH WITH FRIENDS BY PHONE, EMAIL OR VIDEO.
  • DON’T FORGET SNAIL MAIL – EVERYONE LOVES TO RECEIVE A LETTER
  • CHECK IF SOMEONE NEEDS REPEAT MEDICATION PICKING UP
  • IF SOMEONE IS ISOLATING, OFFER TO SHOP FOR THEM AND LEAVE THE ESSENTIALS ON THE DOORSTEP
  • FIND OUT IF SOMEONE WOULD LIKE HELP CREATING AN ONLINE DELIVERY
  • MAKE SURE FRIENDS HAVE PLENTY OF ENTERTAINMENT, SUCH AS BOOKS
  • CONSIDER IF YOU COULD HELP WITH PETS
  • WATCH THE SAME TV PROGRAMME AND PHONE FOR A CHAT ABOUT IT AFTERWARDS
  • ENCOURAGE PEOPLE TO STAY ACTIVE
  • FIND OUT THE SERVICES AVAILBALE FROM LOCAL COUNCILS, CHARITIES AND OTHER ORGANISATIONS

The positivity encouraged by digital communication.

Those experiencing isolation and loneliness are at a much higher risk of developing depression and anxiety. Most aspects of interaction, like talking, smiling, laughing or even walking about, release chemicals in the brain that heighten our sense of happiness and in turn, our sense of health.

However, the availability of technology today has ensured we are in the best possible position for connectivity without necessarily being in the same room as who you’re connecting with. Westgate Healthcare are encouraging residents’ families and members of the public to keep in touch via video calls and phone calls. Video call apps such as Skype and Facetime are being used, not only to reassure users that relatives are healthy, and provides visual links to the outside world, connecting them to it.

Above: Elderly husband and wife using digital tablet at home

Social media platforms are also incredibly useful for messaging and sharing photos and memories. It can be used to stimulate minds, entertain and contact relatives that they haven’t seen for weeks.

The Carers UK website suggests that families should spend time together virtually, by setting up family group chats or playing online games together. “If online communication isn’t possible, never underestimate the value of a regular phone call to offer social contact and support”.

What’s next?

The current government advice is to avoid visiting care homes. There is not a formal ban, but some homes have restricted entry to visitors and have refused entry to those with coughs or high temperatures. If you are visiting, the government have issued statements advising to spend more time on a single visit rather than two short visits on separate occasions and have given the advice of practising good hand hygiene at all times.

It is recommended that you wash your hands on arrival or use hand sanitiser on arrival. If you cough or sneeze, do this into your elbow or cover the mouth with a tissue or sleeve. Do not use your hands.

On May 10th it was announced that some children would be returning to school on the 1ST June. Some retailers and food outlet are also beginning to open and the country is quickly working its way towards normality. However, as the topic is so relevant now, these organisations and those who are lonely themselves, are asking you to consider the elderly when you think about the loneliness and boredom you have experienced in your isolation.

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