On Your Health

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How to Help Older Neighbors During COVID-19

As the COVID-19 novel coronavirus has swept through the U.S. and around the world, the loudest and most important message from health officials has been to stay away from other people.

Social distancing and shelter-at-home practices are the best ways to halt the spread of the virus, and we’ve all been advised to limit contact with others and trips outside of the home.

While this is responsible advice, social distancing can have an especially negative impact on one of society’s most at-risk groups: the elderly.

Social distancing can isolate the elderly even more at a time when they need the most assistance. While face-to-face conversation is still not advisable, making regular contact with senior friends and neighbors is still important, because isolation and loneliness can have serious ramifications on the elderly. 

In addition to adding more stress to existing chronic health conditions, isolation can also lead to depression, high anxiety, feelings of hopelessness and disengagement.

More practically, many elderly neighbors may now lack the ability to get the necessary items they may need, like food, toiletries and medication. 

However, you might feel awkward just assuming an elderly neighbor needs help. Here are some tips on how to approach that conversation.

Say hello 

If you have a senior neighbor, simply saying hello is a great way to start a conversation. If you see your neighbor outdoors watering the lawn or checking the mail, maintain a safe social distance while introducing yourself. A simple “How are you?” and “Do you need anything?” not only opens the door to possibly helping someone in need, but also builds a sense of community that isolated people may crave.

You should also reach out to a handful of your neighbors to see who they have helped in the past, or if they have information on other, more vulnerable neighbors who might need additional help.

Neighborhood apps like Nextdoor can also be used to identify which neighbors might be in need. It’s also a good way to volunteer your services to a broad group of people in your area who may already be helping older people in the neighborhood. 

Little gestures mean a lot

If you know of a neighbor who could use a hand, simply call them before you go to the grocery store or pharmacy to see if they need you to pick up some things for them.

If you have a large supply of something such as toilet paper or canned goods leave an item or two on their porch.

Many bigger grocery store chains have set aside certain shopping hours for people most vulnerable to the coronavirus, but sometimes an older neighbor cannot make it to the store. Help your neighbor schedule a home delivery or even offer to pick up their curbside delivery for them.

Connect with other neighbors to start a list of which neighbors need help. Little tasks, like leaving a care package of cookies or reading material on the porch, can make a big difference in the life of someone who feels isolated or forgotten.

Frequent check-in calls to your neighbors during this time can create a support system that lasts well beyond the coronavirus pandemic. But remember, all people should be treated with respect, so do not push contact or your services on someone who may not need or want your help.

Get creative

Here are some creative ways to connect with your older neighbors so they don’t feel isolated during this time.

  • Have your children make homemade cards with inspirational messages to leave in their mailbox. Be sure to include your phone number so they can call you if they have a need.
  • Offer to play online games with senior neighbors, if they are familiar with computers.
  • Offer to do yard work or other outdoor maintenance.
  • Cook a meal once a week to deliver to a vulnerable person’s home. Get your neighbors and friends involved, and everyone chooses a day to make a meal.
  • Have a conversation through the glass door or over the fence just to let them know that someone is thinking about them.
  • Collect the contact information of your senior neighbor’s family members, doctors and other important people. Let your neighbor and his or her family know that you are willing to help if they need it.

Sticking together

Being away from loved ones and avoiding most human contact are hard tasks for all of us. But for seniors, it can be harder than most. When you reach out and engage with a senior neighbor who may need a little more assistance during this time, this act strengthens the whole neighborhood and could creating lasting social ties beyond the next few months.

If you are worried about the health or well-being of any neighbor, do not be afraid to call 911 to request a welfare check.

Find more information regarding the coronavirus and COVID-19 at our COVID-19 Resource Center.

 

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