What a difference a month makes. A month ago, my colleagues and I were going up to Capitol Hill to talk with congressional offices about the fiscal year 2021 budget. It was that time of the year again, when organizations like B’nai B’rith advocate to Congress about funding for affordable housing for the upcoming fiscal year. As always, these types of meetings were scheduled to take place over the next couple months. Unfortunately, as everyone knows by now, the world looks very different because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Offices have been closed, meetings have become phone conferences, schools have shut their doors and cities and states have installed massive restrictions on travel. Working from home has caused me and countless other people to go a little stir crazy. However, this might give everyone a sense as to what too many seniors throughout our country experience every day. According to the University of Michigan and the American Association of Retired People (AARP), one-third of older Americans (ages 50 to 80) suffer from loneliness.
Obviously, given the new guidelines from the Center for Disease Control regarding social distancing, problems associated with social isolation are only going to get worse. Social isolation amongst seniors can have negative impacts on their health. For example, according to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, social isolation can lead to an increase risk of heart disease, depression and mortality.
So how can we encourage older Americans to say connected with family and friends while still staying at home? Seniors who have the technology can stay in touch by using video chatting services, social media, phones and texting. Alan Teo, a physician teacher at the Oregon Health and Science University’s School of Medicine, reported that video chatting helps fight depression associated with social isolation in adults 60 and older. According to the data, video chatting (compared to instant messaging, social media and email) is the most effective form of communication to fend off depression.
In addition, seniors can communicate with other people by participating in online faith-based services. For instance, houses of worship have moved their services to the web so everyone can still participate. This a great way for seniors to stay connected with their community without having to leave their home.
It’s not just social isolation that’s a problem for seniors during this pandemic. The most pressing issue is how we can keep our older Americans safe. Seniors are particularly susceptible to COVID-19, so guarding their safety is incredibly important. B’nai B’rith, as a national sponsor of low-income senior housing across the country, is very aware that precautions need to be taken to ensure our resident’s well-being. Our sponsored buildings have already cancelled community events like educational classes and parties in the building. In addition, hand sanitizers have been placed throughout the properties and building staff have been given instructions on how to ensure their own safety, as well as the residents. Furthermore, buildings have encouraged everyone to practice “social distancing”.
At the B’nai B’rith Goldberg Towers and the Pasadena Interfaith Manor in Houston, beginning in mid-March staff contacted all their residents, making sure they had food and medicine to last through the end of the month. Additionally, building staff offered to help those residents who were unable to get their food and medications. Also, there are plans in place to regularly check-in on residents through April. Lastly, staff has been instructed to wear hand gloves when entering a resident’s apartment to ensure the safety of everyone.
Almost everyone either has an older adult in their family or part of their social circle. With COVID-19 sadly having no end in sight, now would be a great time to contact the seniors in your life. Even if they don’t need help getting life’s necessities, video chatting or talking on the phone for a few minutes could go a long way in their physical and mental well-being.
Evan Carmen, Esq. is the Legislative Director for Aging Policy at the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services. He holds a B.A. from American University in political science and a J.D. from New York Law School. Prior to joining B’nai B’rith International he worked in the Office of Presidential Correspondence for the Obama White House, practiced as an attorney at Covington and Burling, LLP, worked as an aide for New York City Council Member Tony Avella and interned for Congressman Gary Ackerman’s office. Click here to read more from Evan Carmen.
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