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Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Call your grandparents

The isolation caused by the pandemic is hitting older groups harder, it’s our job to help them stay connected.

A grandmother waving from her front yard at her family on the other side. Elderly people are at a higher risk during the pandemic, and have been advised to self-isolate as much as possible. // Illustration by Emma Toscani
A grandmother waving from her front yard at her family on the other side. Elderly people are at a higher risk during the pandemic, and have been advised to self-isolate as much as possible. // Illustration by Emma Toscani

By Payton Gift

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, people have had to adjust to a new normal. Some adjustments were big, like not congregating with people outside of your household, some small like washing your hands more often.

Those are the changes for the average low-risk citizen, but vulnerable populations like our elderly need to take even further precautions. It is making day-to-day life during the pandemic particularly difficult. 

Rick Flug, 73, is a resident of a 55+ mobile home community in Bellingham. He said that this pandemic has made older community members feel isolated.

“Being in the age group I’m in means that I didn’t use social media like younger generations did,” Flug said. “So we all lost face to face contact, but that means a more significant loss of interaction for us than others because many older people don’t also have a Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram, to connect with people.”

Our elderly populations weren’t given the same introduction to technology that many of us in younger generations had. If you don’t think that matters, try explaining how to create a Zoom chat room to your grandmother and then get back to me. 

Many of us in non-vulnerable populations are still getting some sort of interaction outside of our home by using social media. Low-risk individuals are still able to go to the grocery store, hike, or take a walk around their neighborhood. But those who are at a high risk for infection or can’t physically leave their homes don’t even get that small reprieve from isolation. 

Director of Home Attendant Care, Debbie Gann, said that isolation is one of the biggest issues many of her clients are currently facing. 

Gann said that there are three communities within the older population that she advocates for during this time because of their particular struggles. These three are those with dementia, those in hospice care and older veterans. 

“All three of those categories are getting hit harder by the isolation from this pandemic,” Gann said. “For those with dementia, they don’t understand it and they think they’ve been abandoned. For those on hospice they’re not able to say goodbye.”

Many of us can’t fully conceptualize our own mortality, let alone face it without the comfort of our family by our side. But for those currently living out their final days, that is their reality. 

Gann said elderly veterans are facing their own difficulties surrounding COVID-19 as well.

“For veterans who often struggle with PTSD, they’re replaying a lot of it because there are mental health issues that tag along with isolation and depression and fear,” Gann said.

Flug said that even if he was “tech savvy,” he doesn’t think it would change the way he and his neighbors feel. 

“There’s new things that are being learned during this time like how valuable face time, real face time, with people you care about matters,” Flug said. “It is a rich and rewarding interaction to be in somebody else’s’ presence versus when you are disconnected through some form of media.”

The isolation caused by the pandemic can contribute to far more than just a feeling of loneliness. For communities like the elderly who depend on outside assistance, it can affect something as simple as being able to get your prescriptions on time. 

Julie Schoen, a spokesperson from the National Center on Elder Abuse, said that this isolation caused by the pandemic can put older citizens at risk of unchecked abuse. 

“When we’re using this term of social distancing, people are taking that a little too literally,” Schoen said. “We should be physically distancing, we’re striving to have people use this terminology. Because we all still do need to be socially connected. Older people especially need to be socially connected, we need to know if they need groceries, if there is abuse that we need to be aware of.”

Schoen said that older populations are being targeted by scam calls trying to capitalize on the fear created by COVID-19. According to Schoen, the calls often ask for social security numbers or bank information in exchange for access to a “clinical trial” for a vaccine. 

Without the support of loved ones, and organizations like the NCEA checking in on older people there is a high risk that they could suffer from either financial or physical abuse. That is why it is crucial that we help our aging population stay connected during this time. 

This can be something as simple as helping your older relatives learn how to stay connected online. Or writing them weekly letters to let them know someone is thinking about them. 

Any effort you make will mean the world to them.


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