Older adults could suffer from extreme loneliness while social distancing

Not only do adults 65 and older make up 80% of coronavirus deaths in the U.S., according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but measures to stop the spread of the disease are harming their mental health too.

Social distancing is necessary to slow the spread of coronavirus, but there are consequences of alienating older adults. 

"Social distancing is the public health message that we absolutely want people to do," University of Georgia gerontologist Kerstin Emerson said.

"We want people to do that, but then we want to think about how do we ease the burden of loneliness while we’re doing that," Dr. Emerson said.

Dr. Emerson says there's not necessarily a science to loneliness, but rather, life experiences can make us lonely.

A divorce, a death of a loved one, health issues, moving or even a financial crisis, are all examples of alienating experiences that older adults are more likely to have had over the years.

says older adult loneliness was a concern long before the coronavirus pandemic and now, it's even more of a challenge.

"So now we’re really worried about older adults that were already lonely and now there are even more that are lonely," she said.

Dr. Emerson says cheering up an older adult during this pandemic is simple. She suggests picking up the phone and making a call or writing an older adult a letter.

“My son is six and he’s learning writing. We have him practicing his penmanship by writing letters to older adults in a nursing home," she said.

Dr. Emerson says these options are especially important for those 65 and up, as they might not have access to the internet or broadband, or be as tech-savvy as those who are taking advantage of zoom calls and FaceTime dates to stay entertained.

The small gesture could make a world of a difference.