isolated seniorsWith the pandemic continuing to be a part of our world, family caregivers are increasingly concerned about loved ones isolated at home or in facilities.

Many older adults and their family caregivers have little human interaction in “normal” times, and the pandemic makes it even worse.

Research shows that isolation and loneliness are as detrimental to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, says AARP’s recent article entitled “Teens Reach Out to Isolated Older Americans Through Online Programs.”

However, some new programs and approaches that have come about in the coronavirus quarantine can have a positive impact far beyond the pandemic. Let’s look at three virtual intergenerational programs that bring hope for the future.

Music and Games to Brighten Spirits. Fifteen-year-old Maya Joshi and her twin sister, Riya, started daily video calls with their grandparents when the pandemic took hold. Seeing how much their grandparents enjoyed it, Maya decided to do something to help other isolated older adults. She launched Lifting Hearts with the Arts in April. The intergenerational program involves teen volunteers connecting online with residents in 17 Illinois nursing homes and assisted living facilities. They present musical performances, games and 1:1 video chats.

These virtual activities are making a significant impact and are improving the residents’ moods, said the director of programming at a nursing home in Springfield, Illinois. After one resident grew more comfortable with the technology, she began initiating video calls with her friends and family. These seniors now have something to look forward to and they like seeing young smiles on the screen.

Meals and conversation To Eliminate Loneliness. The Los Angeles-based Youth Movement Against Alzheimer’s (YMAA) YouthCare program, in partnership with the University of Southern California, has been training students to provide in-home nonmedical respite and cognitively stimulating activities for people living with dementia.

The program was suspended when the COVID-19 lockdown began. As a rapid response to the pandemic, YMAA reached out to their chapters in high schools and college campuses across the country to create Meals Together. It’s a program where students have virtual visits during mealtime with those in early stages of dementia and their caregivers.

In only three months, 39 YMAA chapters are participating in the expanding program. They now serve 175 users. They partner with nonprofits, like Meals on Wheels and assisted living facilities, to identify older participants. Seniors can also sign up on their own.

Natashia Townsend, YMAA’s director of caregiving programs, says they describe the program to participants in early stages of dementia as a way to help the students as they prepare for their careers. “It makes them feel empowered to help someone else,” Townsend explains. The youth volunteers also find it rewarding. “It’s just a great way to connect, and a lot of our seniors are feeling lonely at this time; they just want to feel like they have a friend,” she says.

Reference: AARP (July 27, 2020) “Teens Reach Out to Isolated Older Americans Through Online Programs”