49 Blackburn Center, Gloucester MA | 100 Cummings Ctr, Ste 106H, Beverly, MA

Social Isolation (not only during COVID-19)

Apr 3, 2020

I normally work full time in a busy office, surrounded by dozens of people. On Friday, March 20, in response to Governor Baker’s instructions for social distancing, I started working exclusively at home.  It took a little bit to get used to being off-site, but it’s working. During the work day, I’m busy.  I am in regular contact with my co-workers via email and by phone.  My work translates pretty easily to a work at home format.

The first weekend I was home went by quickly.  I did chores around the house, read a book, watched TV and cuddled with my three cats.  I live in downtown Gloucester, so am able to take walks along Gloucester’s beautiful harborfront on the Boulevard.  My first full week working at home was all right.  I made sure to keep to a schedule and felt like I accomplished quite a bit.

But, then the second weekend came along.  All of a sudden, being on my own with no concrete tasks to do, the 36 hours of weekend freedom suddenly looked more like six weeks of solitary confinement. Sunday evening, I was thrilled that I would be working on Monday morning, lessening the isolation of social distancing.

Many people in the elder community face daily social isolation. This might be due to the death of a spouse or partner, separation from friends or family, retirement, loss of mobility, and lack of transportation, to name just a few reasons a person might become isolated from society.

Human beings are social creatures. Research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions– high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and even death.

Conversely, people who engage in meaningful, productive activities with others tend to live longer, boost their mood, and have a sense of purpose. These activities seem to help maintain their well-being and may improve their cognitive function, studies show.

Our communities have resources that can help with social isolation—volunteer programs, churches, social clubs, councils on aging/senior centers, community dining programs, and more. For elders who cannot leave their home, home delivered meals (Meals on Wheels) offer both a healthy lunch and a friendly visit for a few minutes from the driver delivering meals. The friendly visit is a critical component of the success of Meals on Wheels.  It is not unusual to hear that the Meals on Wheels driver is the only person an elder sees during the day.

While we experience the need for social distancing, our elder friends and family are more at risk for social isolation than ever before. As a group at higher risk if they become infected with Covid-19, they must remain safely at home. They cannot visit with their children, grandchildren and friends.  They cannot participate in volunteering, council on aging programs, church services, or most of the other activities that help them remain vital members of our community.  Now more than ever, it’s important for us to reach out to our elder friends with a phone call or other means of safe contact. 

Think of how stir crazy we’re all getting after a couple of weeks at home.  This is every day and has been every day for months or years for many of our elder friends.  Once the world settles down and gets back to “normal,” let’s try to remember how hard it is to look at the same walls day in and day out.  Maybe it will help us remember to reach out to a friend a little more often than our busy lives have allowed in the past.