With senior-friendly technology, there is no need for a senior to risk breaking social distancing.
It is important for clinicians pay close attention to the mental health of the elderly as a growing number of state and regional directives to shelter in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Currently, there are more than 50 million Americans aged 65 years and older. Physical distancing during this public health crisis is essential in preventing the spread of the virus, but it can come at a high cost to seniors’ mental health and well-being, resulting in loneliness, anxiety, depression, and cognitive problems.
There are now more than 84,000 cases of coronavirus in the United States; and the CDC reports that about 80% of deaths associated with the disease have been in those 65 years of age or older1.Senior citizens have been at the highest risk rate for serious disease and death.. While the negative symptoms and danger of Covid-19 are quite clear, the global pandemic also puts the mental health and overall physical fitness of seniors at risk.
As more and more countries begin to lock themselves down and set up quarantines, individuals both young and old are forced into practicing social distancing and physical isolation. With close to a third of US seniors already living alone at home and the recent increased need for social distancing5, the risk of negative physical and mental health effects from social isolation for seniors has never been higher. Technology plays a key role in fighting the dangers of social isolation by offering a variety of avenues for individuals to be connected socially both locally and around the world, as well as providing other mental and physical benefits. While younger generations have taken to increasing their screen time and are using technology to adapt to the changing circumstances2, seniors who typically encounter more barriers when using modern technology 3,4 are finding it more difficult to adapt. However, there are a variety of technology-based options and senior-friendly devices available now that can help elderly individuals get through the Covid-19 global pandemic. Here are some ways that technology can help seniors deal with social and physical isolation.
A technology that has recently boomed due to the recent global increase of social distancing and remote work is video calling 6. It seems nowadays that every mainstream social media messaging service such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and Skype offer video calling functionality. However, for seniors, accessing these applications through devices like a computer, tablet or smartphone can be a challenge and a downright frustrating process. Senior-friendly devices such as the Jitterbug 2, a smartphone for seniors, helps elderly individuals to overcome technological barriers by providing an accessible and affordable smartphone solution to phone calling and video calling. For seniors who prefer a larger screen when video calling family and friends, the Sirona.TV, a smart TV for seniors, also offers video calling functionality and is a great at-home option.
Social media in general is also a great way for seniors to connect with loved ones from a distance and has been increasing in popularity among the elderly7. Personally, my grandmother loves being able to look up photos of distant friends and chat with them through Facebook. While seniors may be hesitant to share their own information by posting on social media, platforms like Twitter are also great ways to keep up to date with the latest news and receive different public services announcements both locally and at a national level.
While social media and video meetings areexcellent ways for seniors to stay in touch with those close to them, there are likely times when their family and friends are unavailable to chat, especially with more individuals needing to start working remotely from home. However, virtual assistants like Amazon’s Alexa have proven to not only great help seniors with their daily tasks but also to promote independence and to provide a sense of companionship for seniors 8, 9. While the more popular virtual assistants such as Alexa and Google Home are designed for more general audiences, the Sirona.TV features its own elderly-friendly virtual companion which is like Alexa for Seniors.
Another negative effect of practicing social distancing for seniors that are is that they are far less physically active. Whether it be meeting with friends at a coffee shop or taking a walk through a local park, it is currently being advised more and more around the world that people should not participate in any non-essential activities 10,11. Seniors, in particular, are greatly encouraged to practice social distancing as they have more comprisable immune systems. However, by practicing social distancing seniors are far less likely to get the daily exercise that is crucial for keeping their body and brains active.
However, there are ways for seniors to still stay active at home. The National Institute on Aging has an extensive exercise video series called Go4Life that is tailored for seniors. The Sirona.TV also comes equipped with senior-focused at home diet and exercise videos as well as a health monitoring system.
Even if they are not fitness related, video games in general are a great option for keeping the brain active during the Covid-19 pandemic. A recent study found that video games can be a beneficial source for cognitive stimulation and can improve the cognitive functions such as attention span & memory and the overall cognitive control in seniors12. However, setting up the latest video game system or trying to find brain games in the app store on a smartphone may be a frustrating process for a Senior. The Grandpad, a table for seniors, and the Sirona.TV can help with this dilemma as they both feature built-in games that stimulate the brain.
During these trying times, whether it be staying active mentally, physically or socially, it is important to use every tool available to keep up with daily habits and stay active. This notion applies particularly to Seniors as staying active can slow down the process of mental decline that is natural with aging. With today’s senior-focused technology there is no reason that a senior cannot keep up with their normal daily routines, even when needing to practice social distancing. With information surrounding Covid-19 continually changing at a rapid pace and much uncertainty in the air about the future, it is best to play it safe. Individuals, both young and old, should do their best to stay at home. Thankfully technology makes this major life adjustment quite a bit easier.