Social Isolation: Caregiving in the time of covid – lecture notes

In late March and April 2020, Home Instead Senior Living hosted “Caregiving During Covid-19,” a Facebook Live Series every Monday and Thursday for 30 minutes. The fifth chat in the series, on April 13th, was a Question-and-Answer about social isolation.

Social isolation and loneliness is a common problem for seniors.  This period of physical distancing and social isolation due to covid-19 is giving the rest of us a glimpse into the lonely experience of many seniors.  Hopefully, that shared experience will help us:      
– become more aware of seniors around us who may be lonely, and       
– develop creative ways to prevent or relieve their loneliness.

The conversation between two gerontologists addressed:
– factors that can lead to social isolation for seniors,
– signs we may notice if someone we love is lonely or depressed, and
– proactive things we can do to help prevent or relieve loneliness for seniors.

I liked this suggestion: Ask your loved one what would make them feel more connected? 

The recording from April 13th can be found here:

Denise Dagan from Stanford Parkinson’s Community Outreach listened in on the discussion and shared her notes.

Recordings from the nine discussions or chats can be found here:



Social Isolation Q&A
April 13, 2020
Home Instead Senior Living
Notes by Denise Deagan, Stanford Parkinson’s Community Outreach

Moderator: Lakelyn Hogan, gerontologist
Guest: Molly Carpenter, gerontologist and author of Competence to Care

Lakelyn – In this time of social distancing, staying connected is more important than ever because seniors are prone to social isolation, which can lead to loneliness and depression.  Now, we are all getting a glimpse into what seniors often experience. What are your general thoughts on this topic?

Molly – You make an excellent point in saying the covid-19 period of social distancing is a glimpse of what seniors often experience due to mobility issues or chronic conditions.  Our awareness of their daily experience is the only way we can reach out and do something to help seniors.

Isolation is an objective measure of when someone doesn’t have enough people to interact with.

Loneliness is the emotional distress of not having social interaction.  It looks different from one person to another and it very subjective.  You can have a lot of friends, but still feel lonely.

Sometimes, family will move a senior into a care facility thinking they will have so much social interaction, but that person can still feel lonely.
Lakelyn – What other circumstances can make a senior feel lonely, besides mobility, etc.?

Molly – There are so many:

  • Your living environment – being unmarried, widowed, having no children or no children nearby
  • Social changes – currently cancelled book clubs, church groups, closed senior centers, etc.
  • Distance – rural area residence
  • Location and Transportation – suburbs without public transportation and no driver’s license
  • Mobility – pain while walking, limited handicap access, inability to afford a motorized wheelchair or scooter
  • Hearing and Vision limitations
  • Life changes – being widowed, becoming a caregiver, moving/relocation, retirement, etc.

Lakelyn – Isolation and loneliness can impact your physical health.  Studies found loneliness can be worse than smoking (15 cigarettes/daily), alcoholism and obesity.

Molly – There are health implications.  In the last 10 years research articles talk about loneliness causing an increased risk of heart disease/stroke, dementia, depression, perceived stress, pool sleep, even death!  
Lakelyn – There are visual cues you can look for while interacting with our loved ones to recognize symptoms of loneliness so we can do something to relieve their loneliness.

Molly – These signs look a lot like depression and loneliness can lead to depression.  If you see these signs, be sure to bring the issue up with their doctor and have them tested for depression.

  • aches and pains
  • increased tension
  • anxiety/panic attacks
  • low energy/lack of motivation
  • cognitive impairment
  • sleep issues/too many naps during the day
  • weight gain or loss
  • poor diet
  • appetite changes
  • comments about hopelessness
  • feeling down in the dumps

Lakelyn – What can we do to prevent loneliness or isolation for our loved ones?

Molly – First, think about the word, “relationships.”  We all have to work on our relationships.  With our seniors, we may have to take the lead and reach out more often, pay closer attention, and take action.  Seniors tend not to say anything so you need to just step in.

  • Be proactive and persistent
  • Take an individualized approach
    • Consider their personality – do they need quiet time or more active 
    • What did/do they enjoy doing – consider their life experience
  • Use technology to chat, play games, etc.
  • While on the phone or video chatting.  Eat a meal together or dessert, have a happy hour, watch the sunset – be creative with what you do together, virtually.
  • Pick up the phone
  • Send handwritten notes/cards
  • Quality over quantity – even if you haven’t contacted someone in awhile, they may still appreciate the gesture
    • Especially if you share that something made you think of them, make a quick call/text/card, etc.
  • Don’t get discouraged if your initial contact seems unwelcome – keep trying.
  • Ask them what would make them feel more connected?  They may prefer a phone call to video conference, or vice versa.