Coronavirus has made life difficult for everyone. But for those who are vulnerable, or supporting people who are vulnerable, it has been made even harder.

Deborah Alsina MBE comments on why it’s vital at this time when we can’t pop round to see each other, that we find other ways to stay in touch.

It’s fair to say that COVID-19 has thrown a massive spanner in the works for all of us.

From working from home to travelling and shopping less often and changing the way we socialise, every one of us is having to make sacrifices at the moment, but we know that, for many, the impact of this crisis is far more serious.

One of the things we’re most concerned about at Independent Age is the potential effect of self-isolation on older people, particularly when, even in normal times, around 1.2 million older people say they always or often feel lonely. It means that, for those of us with older people in our lives, we now need to make even more of an effort to keep in touch.

The impact of isolation on older people

Social isolation and loneliness can cause a huge number of problems, particularly for older people, whether in terms of mental health, physical health or even just the additional logistical issues it poses.

While many older people are online, many are not, and even some of those who are, are not experienced internet users, which can complicate things like getting groceries delivered or accessing online GP services.

Even those who do use online services are struggling to access delivery slots, with no other way to buy food. That’s just one reason why it’s more important than ever for us to keep in touch with the people in our lives – by phone – to make sure they have all the provisions and support they need.

Remembering mental health

Another reason to ensure we stay in touch with each other is to help support everyone’s mental health.

It’s very difficult to not be able to go outside, potentially for months on end. I’m currently facing this myself as I live with my 88-year-old mother and my husband, who has leukaemia, so the whole family is self-isolating to keep them safe. Many other families are also in this position, but it’s important to bear in mind that self-isolating is even more difficult when you live on your own, so helping older people who are alone to stay connected during this time is vitally important.

Being on your own can severely impact your sense of wellbeing, as well as adding stress and anxiety about not having anyone aware of any health issues or concerns that may arise.

Our efforts

At Independent Age, we have prioritised our efforts to ensure we continue to provide support to the 3,000+ older people we currently work with. After pausing our face-to-face friendship services in line with government guidance, we have adapted our approach and are now providing regular welfare checks over the phone to make sure people are feeling okay, have the essentials like food and medication, and have a support network of friends and family around them.

This is something we can all do for older family members, friends, and neighbours if we know they’re alone.

So far, we have received a number of calls from older people who are concerned about how they’re going to cope on their own, and we’re doing our best to support them as much as possible, or link them up with a local support group who might be in a better position to help.

But this is the time when we all need to do our little bit – connecting and reconnecting with the people in our lives who might be alone at a really difficult time.

Practical ways to support each other through coronavirus

If you don’t live with older family or friends, this could be a good time to support them – again, by telephone – with some basic internet skills, to help them with video calls or using WhatsApp for example.

We’d also recommend getting in touch by telephone with older friends, family, or neighbours that you mightn’t have spoken to for a while, to check on their health and ask if they need any help.

One way to see this is as a chance to reconnect with those people that we might have lost touch with – it can be the start of a stronger relationship with our neighbours or older family.

Once they’re online, you could even arrange a quiz or game over a group video call to keep everyone’s spirits up. It’s so important for people, especially those who are on their own, to be able to see a friendly face at this time.

After all, we’re all affected by this, so it’s important that we all pull together to help everyone through it.