UW gerontologist: Social distancing doesn’t have to mean further isolation for older adults


Potrait of man
Bernard Steinman

Social distancing is a necessary precaution to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but that doesn’t mean communities can’t stay connected, especially with older adults, said a gerontologist with the University of Wyoming.

About 11.7 percent of Wyoming is above the age 65 and about one out of three of the state’s older adult residents live by themselves.

“Too much isolation was already an issue before the coronavirus situation developed,” said Bernard Steinman, in the Department of Family and Consumer Services. “We’re in a situation in which a group of people who are likely to live alone already have now been told not to leave the house.”

Isolation and loneliness have negative effects on people of all ages, but research shows it can cause higher rates of morbidity among older adults.

“But social distance doesn’t need to mean social isolation,” said Steinman.

Using video chat tools like Skype, Facetime and Zoom can help connect elders with their family and friends in a safe way, said Steinman.

While some elders might be hesitant to try new technology or have bad internet connections, Steinman also suggests calling others to see how they are doing.

Even arranging a time to visit them at their home and stay outside is a positive way to connect, comments Steinman.

“I’ve seen communities rally to find creative ways to include older people from greater than 6 feet, or even through glass,” said Steinman. One neighborhood created an email list-serv to arrange times when all could go out to their front porches for friendly chats at a distance.

Neighborhood groups are also popping up with the purpose of looking out for those who are at greater risk as well as mutual aid groups that match volunteers with needs.

“We don’t know where the situation is going, but I think it has united communities in wonderful ways,” said Steinman.

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