BALTIMORE – Pandemic isolation may make this holiday season even lonelier than usual for older adults who struggle with solitude, but an online tool is bringing connections to folks who want contact and those who want to help.
AARP’s Community Connections platform, released at the start of the pandemic, is designed for anyone experiencing bouts of loneliness, especially during the holidays, according to Nancy Carr, associate state director for communications at AARP Maryland. She said the website lets users organize and find local volunteer groups to lend emotional support, shop for groceries or walk dogs. It also offers friendly phone calls to people who want daily check-ins.
“We trained volunteers, so it’s not going to be just somebody calling you who hasn’t been vetted. And they will provide a call to say hello,” Carr said. “It also helps family members of the individual, because they also know that there’s somebody else checking in on their loved one.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research has shown that social isolation is associated with a 29% increased risk of heart disease. Not everyone minds being alone. But for seniors interested in having a daily check-in, they can call 1-888-281-0145 or go online to aarpcommunityconnections.org.
Michael Friedman, a clinical social worker and AARP Maryland volunteer, noted that the holidays are tough for many people, but said they should try if possible either not to be alone or to plan something enjoyable to do with their time. In this election year, if you get together online and have a conversation that turns unpleasant, Friedman said, it requires a different approach than in person.
“If you’re going to have connections with family and friends during the holidays by video conference, it’s different,” he said. “You can’t interrupt each other, you can’t have side conversations. So you need to think it through and be prepared for that.”
CDC research has shown that social isolation significantly increases a person’s risk of premature death from all causes. It’s also associated with about a 50% increased risk of dementia.