Across the United States, nearly 1 in 4 older adults suffer from the effects of social isolation and its related health risks. And that was before COVID-19. A 2020 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found that loneliness affects more than one-third of adults aged 45 and older. A Centers for Disease Control report says that there is strong evidence that many adults age 50+ “are socially isolated or lonely in ways that put their health at risk.”
Fortunately, there are a number of ways you can help yourself and others feel less alone—and feel more connected—in safe, socially distanced ways.
AARP Foundation’s Connect2Affect aims to end social isolation and help older adults build the social connections they need to thrive. The platform offers a collection of tools and resources that can help you stay connected, not just during the pandemic but whenever you need support.
This self-assessment tool helps you understand whether you or a loved one may be at risk of social isolation and find ways to become more connected.
Another tool is Social Check-In, an assessment you can take in 5 minutes using just your voice. Setup is easy; just follow the instructions for your device. Then tell your device to launch Social Check-In, answer a few questions about yourself, and get a text message with your results telling you whether you may be at risk of social isolation. The text also shares resources to help you live a more connected life, even in a pandemic.
The Connect2Affect Chatbot is a friendly, free, secure bot designed to chat with users over text messages or on Facebook Messenger. Available 24/7, the goal is to help them build habits to stay connected with family, friends, and community. The chatbot offers coping strategies to boost well-being.
Even in these difficult times, there are still ways to lift the spirits of your friends, family, or “framily” (the family you choose).
Some senior citizens need to brush up on their tech skills. If you’re digitally savvy, share your knowledge. If your tech know-how could use a boost, check out SeniorNet, a robust educational resource featuring lots of tips and tools. One caveat: if you decide to help someone build an online presence: make sure they understand the risks of navigating the internet and take the necessary precautions.
A phone call now and then can truly lift someone’s spirits. Let your loved ones know about the opportunity to request a Friendly Voice call in English or Spanish. Requests can be made through an online form or by calling toll-free 888-281-0145 (English) or 888-497-4108 (Spanish).
Local nonprofits often offer a host of programs and resources for older adults. Check with your Area Agency on Aging (AAA). Regional offices are located throughout the United States. AAAs provide support services to older adults and caregivers and can connect you with meals, transportation, and in-home services. Visit the AAAs’ Eldercare Locator, or call 800-677-1116. In addition, the National Council on Aging’s Aging Mastery Program can help older adults learn healthy habits, develop social connections, and live more fulfilling lives.
Elder Helpers offers a number of ways to help older adults. Friend to Friend America combats loneliness by connecting volunteers with friends in need, and virtually everyone is eligible to apply. You can also use this resource to find a friend for someone else. Senior Corps is a government-funded organization that includes more than 220,000 older adults who volunteer as foster grandparents, senior companions, and in other service roles. Learn more about getting involved here.
Did you love having a pen pal as a child—or just like corresponding with others? Then, consider getting involved with Empowering the Ages’ Sharing Smiles Notes, which connects people from older and younger generations safely through email. In fact, pen pal clubs are cropping up around the country. You can also contact your local nursing home or assisted living facility to find out how you can send cards or emails to one or more of the residents.
While it may be difficult to sit on the couch with your loved one and watch a movie together, you can do so virtually. Applications like Watch2Gether let you and a loved one watch video content together, even when you’re in different places. Netflix, Disney, Hulu, and HBO subscribers can do the same thing with Teleparty.
The Unlonely Project, an initiative created by the Foundation for Art and Healing, has a few creative ways to connect people. You can watch and discuss short films with others virtually. The project also has programs that let you share a story or participate in creative challenges to connect with others. Get involved and encourage your socially isolated or lonely loved ones to do the same.
Find more opportunities and inspiration today using this simple volunteer search. No matter how you choose to volunteer, you’ll be doing yourself—and your community—a world of good.