At a point when social distancing is predominant in every conversation, a timely and groundbreaking book by the 19th Surgeon General of the United States makes a case for loneliness as a leading public health concern. Dr. Vivek Murthy argues that loneliness is affecting how our health, performance and societies as a whole, are suffering from the sweeping effects of being disconnected.

Humans have an innate desire to connect with one another. Our species has evolved and thrived based upon this need for connection and cooperation. Dr. Murthy’s studies highlight the fact that social isolation can have an impact on longevity that is equal to lifestyle risks such as smoking, obesity, excessive alcohol consumption and lack of exercise.

At the greatest risk for loneliness is our senior population, where isolation is poised to become one of the most serious health issues faced by older Americans. With 18 percent of adults age 65 and older living alone, 43 percent report feeling lonely on a regular basis. The added isolation for coronavirus containment will take an increasing toll. 

When thinking about seniors or others in our lives who have been left feeling isolated and lonely, here are a few ideas to stay connected while social distancing:

1. Plan to connect

Talk to family and friends and develop a plan to safely stay in touch with people you are concerned about during the isolation period. This might include a schedule of check-in conversations with a designated daily contact indicated on the calendar. The plan should also include who the senior can reach out to if they need help accessing food, medication, or other supplies.

Apps are available that aid family members in organizing and sharing duties like Lotsa Helping Hands and Caring Village.

2. Connect

Communication is perhaps the most important thing for older people to stay connected while social distancing. Bill Walsh from AARP comments that apps which allow loved ones to see and hear each other, like FaceTime or Skype, have the added bonus of letting you see how stressed your loved one looks. The tone of a person’s voice, as well as the upkeep of their home surroundings, can provide needed input into how someone is doing.

3. Be on the lookout for loneliness

There are many in our community beside our elderly family members that need our help. Pick up the phone, call someone and ask how they’re doing. It’s not about finding more time, it’s about making ourselves available for quality time. A five-minute conversation could make a big difference in how someone feels.