Help seniors win the mental health battle during isolation

How to keep older adults engaged and connected
Posted at 2:41 PM, May 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-14 13:06:00-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — The coronavirus pandemic and quarantine has impacted all of us in some way, but mental health experts say they're especially concerned about older adults in our lives. Many of them say they are feeling isolated and vulnerable, but there are steps we can take to help them conquer these mental health battles.

Staying in isolation due to COVID-19 means older adults remain cut off from friends and extended family. Mental health experts are especially concerned about mental an emotional challenges facing those older adults. They're asking us to take action to help them stay safely engaged and connected.

"In Colorado alone, likely over 350,000 seniors were experiencing prolonged isolation even pre-pandemic," said AARP Foundation President Lisa Marsh Ryerson.

It can be a very lonely time for seniors who are unable to see their families and friends.

"It's very important than older adults know that physical distancing is important, but it doesn't have to lead to social disconnection," said Ryerson.

UCCS psychology expert Jennifer Roberts says connecting with our older adults is great, but wants us to understand these conversations can be fragile.

"Even though it's well-intentioned, it can really create a barrier between our families, between younger adults and older adults, between children and parents. Older adults don't want to be parented by their children," said Roberts, who specializes in clinical geropsychology.

Teaming together, there are things we can do to boost the morale of our senior neighbors and loved ones. AARP leaders say we can utilize technology and thoughtfulness.

"People are really doing interesting things with technology. Virtual game nights. Virtual coffee hours. All of it very, very, important," said Ryerson.

If you haven't already, think about helping the older adults in your life get set up with technology. Things like FaceTime, Zoom or Skype. In many cases you can also have a caregiver set up the video chat session for your loved one if necessary.

How to use Facetime with your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch

Zoom Video tutorials

How do I get started with Skype

We understand not every family has access to this kind of technology, so staying connected by any and all means should be the focus. Even if that means sending a letter, a text, or just picking up the phone to call.

"It's not always an issue of being open to using it, as much as not really having the means to do so. So something as simple as a phone call can really make a big difference," said Roberts.

While students are home from school, getting grandmas and grandpas set up for virtual chats and even board games can benefit everyone's mental health. Also providing opportunities for memorable and influential conversations

"While you're sitting around playing these puzzles or these games and talk about their resilience and their strength. This is not the first time that older adults have been through something hard. They've lived rich and interesting lives.

AARP leaders are issuing this challenge for all of us to keep our seniors connected.

"Each and every day call five older adults," said Ryerson who says she tries to take on the challenge herself.

Sometimes the needs of our seniors will go beyond what we can do for them, but there are trusted resources available for them to get the answers and assistance they need.

Here are some of the resources offered by Roberts and Ryerson to provide our seniors with everything they need to overcome challenges and rebound from the mental health impacts of COVID-19.

AARP Foundation's Connect2Affect:

AARP Coronavirus landing page:

Fraud Watch Network and Hotline:

Community Connections:

UCCS Aging Center (Mental health clinic for older adults):