Guide to Coping with Isolation as a Senior

Kat Casna
Licensed Insurance Agent and Medicare Expert Writer
April 22, 2020

Staying home during the coronavirus pandemic is crucial to the health of older adults and other people at high risk of having a severe illness if they’re infected with COVID-19. But when you're stuck at home for long stretches of time it’s easy to feel isolated; it can make doing what you love harder (if not impossible), and leave you yearning for connections with loved ones.

So we’ve compiled some tips and resources to help you combat isolation and push through the doldrums that can come from being homebound.

Stay connected

Staying connected to loved ones is hard when you can’t enjoy Sunday dinners together, gather for celebrations, or just drop by for a hug and a cup of coffee. But that doesn't mean you can't still talk with, see, and enjoy the company of those you love.

Video call apps

Thanks to growing technologies, you can now chat face-to-face with friends and family without worrying about catching COVID-19. Zoom is one of the most popular chat apps because it's easy to set up, and you don't have to download anything. You or a loved one can set up a chat and then email a link to everyone who wants to join.

If you already use Facebook Messenger to type messages to loved ones, it's easy to start a video chat with that app. Just press the video camera icon, and the app will ring everyone in your chat group.

Old-fashioned letter-writing

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Now is the perfect time to return to this lost art. Recruit friends or family to exchange letters with, or meet someone new. You can find a pen pal within the AARP community if you’re a member. Or check with a nearby senior-living community to find quarantined residents who might make enthusiastic writing partners.

Plenty of other websites connect pen pals too, but use caution with these platforms. Some scammers target older adult pen pals, so never give someone your personal or financial information, no matter how long you’ve been exchanging letters.

Schedule daily or weekly calls

Calling up a friend when you're thinking of them is a great way to have a spontaneous chat, but sometimes looking forward to connecting can be as enjoyable as the talk itself. So schedule regular phone calls, video calls, or letter writing with the people in your life.

Stay engaged

While it might seem counterintuitive, now’s also the perfect time to brush up on old skills or learn some new ones. You might not be able to attend that ceramics class you've been eyeballing or browse through books at the library, but there are plenty of online resources you can use to keep yourself occupied and learning.

Brush up on your tech skills

It's more important than ever to use technologies and online resources. If you feel intimidated by video chatting or other technology, check out Senior Planet. This organization holds classes (many of them online) on topics such as how to initiate a Zoom meeting, the best mindfulness apps, and how to find online health resources.

Use your library

Many libraries have closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but your library card is still a key to knowledge and entertainment. Most libraries offer the ability to “borrow” ebooks, movies, and audiobooks online. You can download these media and enjoy them on your computer, tablet, or smartphone.

If you don’t have a library card, that’s okay. Many libraries let you sign up for a digital library card online without having to go into a branch

If you miss your local library’s educational programs, there's a solution to that too. Lynda.com, the online learning platform, has teamed with libraries nationwide to offer free subscriptions to all library cardholders. Sign up for a boatload of free classes in everything from music lessons, photography, and writing, to web conferencing using Zoom or Skype.

To get a library card, sign up for free Lynda courses, or see what kinds of ebooks, audiobooks, or movies you can borrow, visit your local library’s website.

Work on your bucket list

Have you ever wanted to revel in artwork at the Louvre? How about standing in the shadow of an Egyptian pyramid? With Google Arts and Culture, you can virtually explore world-famous museums, exhibits, landmarks, and historical sites via photos, videos, and commentary. Explore Machu Picchu without having to hike, or plan a post-pandemic visit to the Sydney Opera House.

Stay healthy

When you can’t shop at the grocery store as often as you'd like, getting the right nutrition can be hard. Many grocery stores offer senior-only hours to help keep older adults separated from people with a lower COVID-19 risk. But the safest way to avoid spreading the coronavirus is to avoid crowds of your peers too. Here are some options for obtaining food without leaving your home.

Mainstream delivery services

While many restaurants are closing their doors to dine-in patrons, plenty are still open for takeout and delivery. Some even sell meal-prep packages, staples like toilet paper and milk, and mixed drinks. If the business itself doesn’t deliver, you can use an app like GrubHub, UberEats, or Postmates to order meals and have them delivered to your door. Amazon, Walmart, and Costco also have robust delivery systems in place, and you can order from these stores online.

Unfortunately, delivery and shipping costs can add up. Some stores and restaurants offer free delivery if you spend a certain amount with them, and Amazon offers free shipping if you’re an Amazon Prime member (which costs $12.99 per month). But if you just want a few items, consider asking a low-risk friend or relative to be your delivery service for the day.

Meals on Wheels and similar programs

Few people can afford to pay for regular delivery services day in and day out. And many don't want to deal with cooking or groceries. For these folks, there are programs to help.

Meals on Wheels has been delivering food to low-income or homebound older adults for more than 60 years, and the organization hasn’t stopped during the coronavirus pandemic. So find a Meals on Wheels program near you.

Since the pandemic began, more local delivery programs for high-risk populations have popped up. In New York City, for example, Invisible Hands delivers food and supplies to people 65 and older. Ask your city or local senior center if there are programs like this near you.

Stay active

Staying physically active while homebound might seem daunting, but there are resources to help you get exercise without stepping outside your front door.

Fitness for Medicare beneficiaries

If you have Medicare Advantage, there’s a good chance you have access to a free fitness program. Normally, these programs include gym memberships or in-person fitness classes, but these days they’re offering at-home options as well.

SilverSneakers has on-demand fitness videos, while Silver&Fit allows members to choose up to two home fitness kits per year. You can check your eligibility for these programs on their respective websites.

If your Medicare Advantage plan doesn’t include one of these memberships, it may have its own fitness program, so check with your insurer. If none of these programs is available to you, check out the free Go4Life exercise videos on YouTube from the National Institute on Aging.

Yoga at home

Yoga is easy to adapt to any age or fitness level, and you can do this exercise with limited equipment and space. If you’re new to yoga, try the free videos from Yoga with Adrienne. If you’re looking for higher-intensity yoga, CorePower Yoga also offers free videos during the coronavirus pandemic.

Ask your gym

Have a gym membership? It might give you access to fitness videos online, so check its website or call your trainer to find out. If your gym’s videos are not your cup of tea, check out Eldergym.com, which has videos and activities designed explicitly for older adults.

Stay safe

Being exposed to the coronavirus is not the only danger facing seniors during this time of uncertainty. Scammers are active, and you might want to add security or safety features to your home now that you’re spending more time there.

Avoid scams

Scammers have long targeted older adults. The key to avoiding their scams is staying informed and guarding your personal information and property.

We research the latest scams and create reports to help you stay safe. Check out our COVID-19 Scam Report as well as our Medicare Scam Report.

Stay (accurately) informed

During the pandemic, it’s more important than ever to know what government and health officials are doing to keep you safe. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of false information out there, and knowing how to differentiate between what's true and what's fabricated can be challenging.

Read up on the latest coronavirus-related misinformation with NewsGuard. Once you know what information is false, use non-partisan fact-checking websites such as Snopes.org or FactCheck.org to find the truth

Beef up your home safety and security

Turning attention to your home’s security can offer peace of mind as well. Safewise.com has a list of tools for older adults that includes everything from security cameras to medical alert systems to smart pill dispensers.

Stay sane

When our routines change, and we can't see loved ones, we must be extra careful to care for our mental health. And because the pandemic can cause anxiety and feelings of scarcity, it can be tough to maintain our mental wellbeing. Luckily, there are ways to do that from home too.

Telehealth

Just like you can talk to friends and family over video calls, many mental health professionals are offering virtual counseling appointments, also known as Teleheath services. If you’re on Medicare, you can now see a psychologist or counselor via video chat, and the appointment will be covered just like a regular in-office visit.

Many non-Medicare insurers offer similar services to help patients receive the care they need while practicing social distancing, so ask your insurance company about your options.

Learn from the pros

While isolation might be new to a lot of us, some people are already experts. Astronaut Mike Finke, who spent over a year in space away from his family, shared his tips for getting through self-isolation. He recommends having a checklist of things to accomplish each day, knowing what makes you happy, and going the extra mile to get along with the people you spend time with.

“The astronauts that don’t let the little things bother them, that don’t get too excited, and that try to be a good teammate,” he says, “are the ones that are the most fun to fly with and make the experience fun for everyone.”

Stay thankful

In these trying times, we all need to help each other out. That can be hard when you can’t go to church or assist your neighbors in person, but there’s still plenty we can do.

Make face masks

Joann’s Fabric Store is leading the charge for making and donating cloth face masks to medical professionals and others. Through this craft-supply company, you can get free deliveries of fabric, patterns, and supplies to start sewing masks right away.

Share your home

Shutdowns and stay-at-home orders are affecting local animal shelters. Homeless pets still need care, but there are fewer workers to provide it. If you have space and love to spare, consider adopting or fostering a dog, cat, or other pet. Check out North Shore Animal League shelters (and partner shelters) to find pets in need near you.

We can do this

Avoiding contact with the virus is critical for older adults, especially if you have preexisting health conditions. Staying home and avoiding contact with others is hard for us humans because we're highly social creatures, but right now, it's critical to our health. Plenty of companies, organizations, and technologies are making it easier than ever to get through the quarantine with our health intact. It's up to you to use the resources you can and ask for help with others. Together, we can thrive despite the coronavirus.


Content on this site has not been reviewed or endorsed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the United States Government, any state Medicare agency, or any private insurance agency (collectively "Medicare System Providers"). Eligibility.com is a DBA of Clear Link Technologies, LLC and is not affiliated with any Medicare System Providers.

Kat Casna
Written by
Kat Casna
Kathryn is a Medicare and geriatric specialist who has appeared on Baby Boomers, OppLoans, and Best Company. Her readers don’t need a degree in government-speak to get the right coverage because Kathryn sifts through Medicare’s parts, plans, and premiums to distill only the most useful information. Her favorite place in the world is a hammock that swings peacefully between two crabapple trees somewhere in New Mexico’s Gila National Forest.
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