Keeping Seniors Active and Connected

Seniors from all over the country are joining virtual activity clubs as a way to fight isolation during the pandemic.

Many seniors and elderly who are able to live independently are being cut off from human contact due to social distancing and other safe health practices.

They say they are feeling lonelier than they did before because the pandemic has severely curtailed large gatherings of people in “non-essential” locations like malls, movie theaters, parks, and restaurants since March, forcing more people to mainly stay in their residences. If they did not have use of a phone or computer to communicate, they might as well be invisible.

The Los Angeles Department of Aging and Element3 Health recently announced the launching of the End Loneliness Initiative, an attempt to end or at least slow the rise of social isolation and loneliness in older adults during COVID-19 Safer at Home measures.

Department of Aging General Manager Laura Trejo told reporters that “older adults find themselves increasingly cut off from their friends, families and communities. This has put them at increased risk of social isolation, loneliness and depression.”

As a founding partner of the End Loneliness Initiative, the department plans to help provide free solutions to provide meaningful, safe social connections for the region’s 1.2 million older adults. Some of them have free access to social activities they enjoy such as chess, embroidery, dance and tai chi — many done are online to keep seniors engaged while also practicing social distancing.

Virtual gatherings and activities via computer or other devices are gaining in popularity, not only in the Southland, but across the country.

Lisa Wang, who lives in Pasadena and admits to being “over 60,” is an avid fan of line dancing. She told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol of feeling frustrated when her studio line dancing class was shut down, and the class instructor relocated to the state of Washington. But the instructor also told her about a Zoom line dancing class she could take.

Wang wasn’t sure at first. She still works — she owns a messenger service — and wasn’t in total lockdown in her home. She knows she was more fortunate that others because “I still had contact with people.” But she also had friends who had to stay at home and were unable to go anywhere. “One told me she was depressed,” Wang said.

And not having the dance class was becoming harder to take. Wang said. “I was pretty active, and suddenly there was no place to go,” Wang said. So she tried the online class for the first time in July, and is now a regular.

“It’s like what she used to do in [her studio] class — the movements are exactly the same — it’s just we’re all not in the same room,” Wang said.

Wang understands that not all seniors may be able operate a device such as a computer or even a phone. But those who can would find online activities a valuable resource to staying connected, she said

“I do see other people my age doing the Zoom class with no problem,” she said. “I think it is helping people.”

Andrea Chapman, who a runs a virtual sewing group in Virginia, told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol the group she helped form after Memorial Day “absolutely” lifts people’s spirits.

“(The ones who are alone) are counting the days,” Chapman said. “They know how many days they have been in isolation and how many days since they’ve seen their own children and hugged their grandchildren. And many of them say this [sewing group] is really a lifeline for them, and that it is the favorite part of their week.”

“There’s very much a sense of community and friendship,” she continued. “It’s probably surprising to some because it is virtual. But…friendships are being formed that are much deeper and intimate than anyone could have imagined you could achieve from behind a computer screen.” 

More methods are and will be developed to keep seniors involved and connected. In the meantime, all current emotional lifelines are welcome.

“We share, and we laugh so much, which I think is everyone’s favorite part,” Chapman said of her sewing group.

“Laughter is one of the things you miss about being with your family and friends, right?”

More information is available at https://www.element3healthclubs.com/.

City News Service contributed to this report.

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