18 Dec Guest Column: COVID and Older Americans during the Holidays
By ELEANOR K. LETCHER, M.ED., CSW | CONTACT of Mercer County, NJ, Inc.
The startling news that COVID has killed 800,000 Americans including 1 out of every 100 people over the age of 65 in less than 2 years is markedly tragic. That’s 75% or about 600,000 older adults whose lives were lost in such a short time. The COVID deaths of so many older adults left grieving spouses, good friends, children, grandchildren and close relatives, whose lives were upended with their sudden deaths. This has resulted in countless lonely, depressed and grieving people.
Research from the CDC shows that loneliness and lack of community involvement are health risks for older adults and have a major negative impact on longevity. Among these findings: “Poor Social Relationships (characterized by social isolation and loneliness) was associated with a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke. Loneliness was associated with a higher risk of depression, anxiety and suicide.”
There are so many needs and concerns facing all of us, and every day seems to bring more tragedy such as the horrendous damage and loss of life from the mid-west tornadoes occurring during this holiday season. With so much grief and loneliness at the end of 2021, how can we respond to fill this incredible void?
First, as busy individuals, we need to figure out what we can do to have a positive impact on lonely and vulnerable people, including those whose lives were going well until COVID suddenly came and changed everything. Whatever the “doing” is, it can’t require a lot of time, because most of us are already over committed. First, we need to figure out a way to send a message of care and concern to people that we know. Perhaps a phone call, a note or a visit on some sort of a schedule such as weekly, monthly, every three months. This will help.
Secondly, we can learn about appropriate community resources, such as Telephone REASSURANCE for Older Adults in Mercer County, NJ. The REASSURANCE Program utilizes trained and vetted volunteers, who make daily calls to older adults, who live alone or are alone for much of the day. This is a free service and is a program of CONTACT of Mercer County, NJ, a non-profit agency which has been offering Telephone REASSURANCE on a daily basis since 1978. REASSURANCE has saved the lives of many people over the past 43 years. To find out more about Telephone REASSURANCE, call 609-737-2000 or go to www.contactofmercer.org. And, if you want to volunteer, that would be a great way to make the lives of other people as well as yourself more fulfilling.
While older adults face challenges of loneliness, social isolation and sudden COVID grief, most communities have programs in place to provide opportunities for people to meet either in person or virtually. The challenge is to find the programs and introduce the lonely people of our communities to them. Information is key. Services fail if people aren’t aware of them. So, be an advocate. Find out about local programs and spread the word! In so doing you will be contributing to the wellbeing of others and your community.