Isolation is one of the contributing factors that contributes to the exploitation of elders.  Isolation breeds loneliness.  The pandemic is contributing to the isolation of our elders and thus loneliness. When elders are lonely, phone and internet scammers may find it easier to insert themselves in an elder’s life and pocketbook just by being that friendly ear.

We know that people 65 and older are at increased risk for COVID-19.  As social creatures, our connections to others help us thrive.  During the COVID-19 pandemic, protecting elders through social distancing and quarantining creates  social isolation and loneliness.  While friends, family, and caregivers may be helping protect loved ones from COVID-19, they may be increasing the risk of exploitation.  It is important to fight social isolation in our elders while protecting them from the public health pandemic.

Here are three ways to connect to the elder or disabled person in your life who is self-isolating to protect against the Coronavirus.

  1. The Old-Fashioned Way

Even in a time when we have the latest technology at our fingertips, many elders prefer to communicate “the old-fashioned way” – through letters, postcards, and phone calls.  The easiest thing to do for many is to pick up the phone and call the elders in your life.  Because of the availability of technology, many may not think to write a letter, but these days it can be rare and exciting to receive handwritten note in the mail.  Especially for children, crafting a letter or postcard can be a fun and creative activity.  Use colored paper, markers, colored pencils, stickers, and embellishments to create a unique card that can’t be replicated electronically.  There are few things more cherished or beloved than a handmade card from the heart.

  1. The New-Fashioned Way – Use Your Technology!

In 2020, almost everyone carries a supercomputer in their pocket – it’s called a smartphone!  Smartphones make it extremely easy to communicate on the go.  Shoot out a text or email, or make a quick call (hands free) in your car on the way to work or running errands.  You can even arrange a video or video conference call through many different free apps available, or send a free virtual e-card. Regardless of what method you use to connect to senior loved ones, don’t forget to use your technology as a personal assistant.  Set reminders and calendar events in your smartphone so you remember during your busy life activities to make that call or send that letter.  Coordinate calendars with other family members, friends, and caregivers of the isolating person to make sure contact is consistent and involves those important loved ones who may have different schedules or live in different time zones.

  1. Socially Distanced Visits

Physical visits to those at increased risk for the Coronavirus should be limited or fully eliminated unless required to provide caregiving services.  Many have gotten creative with social distancing by arranging “drive-by” visits and parades for birthdays and special events.  Patient rights relating to visits and activities in nursing homes and care facilities are being largely restricted to curb the spread of COVID-19 in facilities. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provide guidance to nursing homes to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in those care facilities.  The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long Term Care, an advocacy group, has issued a fact sheet on how the Coronavirus pandemic affects rights and rules in nursing homes. The CDC also has suggestions to show loved ones residing in facilities you care, including physical visits through a window or glass door while talking on the phone, sending care packages, recording messages, and hanging banners outside for residents to enjoy.

Some states are beginning to roll back policies and allowing limited in-person visits at nursing homes and assisted living facilities, with restrictions.  If you have a loved one receiving care in a nursing home or assisted living facility, contact the facility directly to learn about their policies.

Though it may not seem like the most critical event in our busy lives, contacting an elder may be a critical event for that elder.  It will help reduce the loneliness associated with isolation.  Reducing isolation and loneliness will reduce the risk of exploitation.  Whether you make a call, arrange a family video conference, send a care package, or mail a hand write a letter, you can do your part to let the elders in your life know they are loved and cared for, from a safe and healthy distance.