How to help seniors facing loneliness during pandemic stay connected | The Rebound Tampa Bay

Posted at 2:11 PM, May 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-27 19:09:25-04

COVID-19 is taking a toll on seniors, especially since the governor is still asking those 65 or older to stay home and stay safe.

A retirement community leader has some creative suggestions to help seniors live healthier lives by feeling connected to loved ones, friends and their community.

"The worst thing for older adults is to sit around these days and obsess about the cable news and watch cable all day long," says Ben Unkle, the CEO of Westminster-Canterbury On Chesapeake Bay Retirement Community in Virginia Beach.

Unkle says there's been an epidemic of loneliness and social isolation in older adults well before the coronavirus pandemic existed.

"It exasperated a problem that always existed," Unkle explained.

With 27% of adults 60 and older living alone, the governor's recommendation for seniors to isolate even longer and stay home can make things worse.

"The best advice I could give you is call your mom, call your dad and stay in touch and be in dialogue with them," Unkle recommends.

If you have an older loved one who lives alone, how do you know he or she may be in trouble?

"The signs are depression, obsessive talk about the virus, obsessive talk about their own future," Unkle added.

Unkle says increase interaction by giving them a smartphone with a speaker button or a screen.

"The best thing, of course, is video chat if you have to be separated so you can see someone's eyes along with the tone in their voice," he said.

Or send them a tablet pre-loaded with games or apps like BirdSong, a combination of education and entertainment, specifically directed at older adults.

The app typically costs $19 per month, but it's free until there's a Covid 19 vaccine.

''It's got easy memory games. Its got college lectures on it,'' Unkle said.

You can also download a free app called Story Corps Connect, that walks you through questions to record your loved one's personal life history.

"Just interview your mom or dad with a speakerphone on and record the interview on your handheld smartphone, and now you have a keepsake and something that spurs lots of other topics of conversation. And it's a wonderful time to do a biography and a life interview story," Unkle said.

If you know of an older person feeling alone and needing help, you can also call the Florida Department of Elder Affairs Helpline at 1-800-96-ELDER (1-800-963-5337).