Successful Aging: Ways to prevent social isolation from turning into depression
Q. I have an issue. This statewide “one-size-fits-all” order that we stay imprisoned in our homes condemns the widows and widowers among us older people to solitary confinement. If you have family in the house of one or more people, it’s not so bad. My wife passed away over six years ago after 58 years of being together; the loneliness is still with me. I go out to eat at restaurants just to have people around me not because I don’t know how to cook. What good does it do to save lives if these lives are not worth living anymore? We’ve had other crises without bankrupting America. Sorry to vent on you, but I am in danger of going stir crazy. Humans are wired for contact, not cages. H.R.
Venting is fine. In fact, your candor may help others who are having feelings similar to yours. Adapting to widowhood after 58 years of marriage is a huge adjustment; sheltering in place can just add to feelings of loneliness that easily can occur from being socially isolated.
Of most importance is to determine if such feelings are morphing into depression. One might ask, “how would I know?”
The National Institute on Aging indicates several signs.
Having a persistent feeling of sadness or anxiety.
Feeling hopeless, guilty, worthless or helpless.
Being irritable or restless.
No longer interested in activities that once were pleasurable.
Having less energy and feeling fatigued.
Moving or talking more slowly.
Having difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions.
Eating more or less than usual, without planning a weight gain or loss.
Having dark thoughts of death, suicide or suicide attempts.
Suffering from aches or pains or digestive problems without a clear physical cause that do not ease with treatment.
Furthermore, the Institute suggests suffering from several of these symptoms for more than two weeks may be a sign of depression. If that’s the case, there is help through a live 24/7 chat line at 1-800 273 8255.
The big question is, “What can we do to fight loneliness and avoid going “stir crazy” during this difficult time?”
Technology may come to the rescue. Let’s begin with the telephone. Telephone conversations are flourishing with people using their cell phones to just talk to one another as opposed to texting or checking emails. Consider calling family and friends; set up a specific time during the week. Then there is Skype and Facetime. Again, set up times to connect. If you like crossword puzzles, thinking about doing one with a telephone, Skype or Facetime buddy.
If you belong to a faith-based community, reach out to a clergy person or a member of that community. Let that person know you are feeling the painful consequences of sheltering in place. Religious institutions are eager to help.
Assuming you have a computer or cell phone, here are some new opportunities. Explore Care Buddies which consists of pairs of people who check-in with one another. They are cross-generational pals, both younger and older, who give one another a sense of safety, community and purpose in time of isolation. Some prefer phone calls; others prefer texts or video chats. They share stories, worries, exchange family recipes and talk about their favorite shows. Go to https://www.callto.care/.
Here is another that embraces younger and older generations. Career Village is a community where students can get free personalized career advice from professionals. Retired professionals have much to contribute. Go to https://www.careervillage.org/.
Mon Ami which means my friend supports older adults who are isolated by the COVID-19 virus. Friendly phone calls are offered with tech support and virtual concerts. Go to https://www.monami.io/ or call (650) 267 2474.
QUARANTINECHAT connects isolated people with surprise conversations over the Internet rather than the phone system. The app Dialup is required for the toll-free call. You will receive calls at random times and get paired with another person for a one-to-one conversation. Subjects discussed include what you are cooking for dinner, your dreams or the global economy. Go to https://quarantinechat.com/. And finally, there is Zoom video conferencing. In connecting with friends and family, ask if they are using it and request to be part of their Zoom community.See https://zoom.us; it’s easy to use.
H.R. Thank you for your timely question. Using technology is not the same as face to face meeting and the human touch. However, for the time being, staying at home is an important effective way to slow down the number of people affected and also to avoid contracting the virus. I hope some of these resources are helpful. Reach out to connect and stay safe and well.
Reminder to readers: Call someone who is home alone. You may be their only human contact for the day.
Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging, employment and retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. For more information, visit HelenMDennis.com. Or follow her at facebook.com/SuccessfulAgingCommunity.