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UW Gerontologist: Social Distancing Doesn’t Have to Mean Further Isolation for Older Adults

March 31, 2020
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Bernard Steinman

Social distancing is a necessary precaution to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but that doesn’t mean communities can’t stay connected, especially with older adults, says a gerontologist with the University of Wyoming.

About 11.7 percent of Wyomingites are older than 65, and about one out of three of the state’s older adult residents live by themselves.

“Too much isolation was already an issue before the coronavirus situation developed,” says Bernard Steinman, in UW’s Department of Family and Consumer Sciences. “We’re in a situation in which a group of people who are likely to live alone already have now been told not to leave the house.”

Isolation and loneliness have negative effects on people of all ages, but research shows they can cause higher rates of morbidity among older adults.

“But social distance doesn’t need to mean social isolation,” Steinman says.

Using video chat tools such as Skype, Facetime and Zoom can help connect elders with their family and friends in a safe way, Steinman says.

While some elders might be hesitant to try new technology or have bad internet connections, Steinman also suggests calling others to see how they are doing.

Even arranging a time to visit them at their homes and stay outside is a positive way to connect, Steinman says.

“I’ve seen communities rally to find creative ways to include older people from greater than 6 feet, or even through glass,” Steinman says. One neighborhood created an email listserv to arrange times when all could go out to their front porches for friendly chats at a distance.

Neighborhood groups also are popping up, with the purpose of looking out for those who are at greater risk -- as well as mutual aid groups that match volunteers with needs.

“We don’t know where the situation is going, but I think it has united communities in wonderful ways,” Steinman says.

Contact Us

Institutional Communications

Bureau of Mines Building, Room 137

Laramie

Laramie, WY 82071

Phone: (307) 766-2929

Email: cbaldwin@uwyo.edu

Find us on Facebook (Link opens a new window) Find us on Twitter (Link opens a new window)

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