It’s undeniable that social restrictions have helped to physically protect people throughout the pandemic. However, those safeguards have also reduced social interactions among us all, especially older adults. The pandemic left a greater number of older adults feeling lonely due to a reduction in their day-to-day social interactions.
The “double pandemic”
As we enter the third year of the pandemic, isolation among older adults continues to be a concern, according to a University of Washington study of social services and health care organizations. Organization leaders expected the impact of social isolation in seniors to persist well after restrictions have been lifted, leading to exacerbated mental health and neurocognitive issues.
Why senior centers are essential
“Coming here has helped me to understand that it is now time to focus on myself,” said Aurora Hurtado, 67, a Sequoia Living program participant. “At first I had many doubts, but I started to attend once a week, then I began to feel more comfortable, and now I don’t want to miss a day.”
Before the pandemic, many seniors living alone maintained active social lives, regularly visiting community centers, joining an exercise class, engaging with a faith community, or enjoying a meal with friends. Now that most older adults can participate safely in social activities, there are several ways Sequoia Living’s senior centers encourage opportunities for interactions.
Senior centers are uniquely positioned to coordinate service delivery with other agencies, mobilize resources, and develop services and activities to encourage social interactions among older adult program participants.
Hurtado began attending the Downtown Senior Center as a suggestion from her healthcare provider. In the fall of 2021, Hurtado joined the center and immediately benefited from the increase of social interactions.
Like many caregivers, Hurtado juggled her career as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) and caring for a family member in Mexico until they passed away. The onset of the pandemic not only reduced her ability to travel, it also impacted her ability to continue with her career as transportation became an obstacle.
“When my kids were young, I was a housekeeper. Then I became a CNA and worked for several agencies.” Working with the most vulnerable population, she found it difficult to continue working in the field. “Covid hit and I have not been able to work since.” She goes on to explain, “Covid invaded my life. Covid really made an impact on us all – it made us all change. I became depressed.”
At the senior center, Hurtado discovered activities she has never been exposed to, like drawing and painting, and playing bingo. She has made friends, including a walking buddy. Hurtado’s excitement and eagerness to learn has gone beyond social interactions. She also began training with a digital coach through a partnership with Community Tech Network in San Francisco. The training has boosted her confidence in utilizing her smartphone, and she is now learning to use a tablet to better connect with family.
Seeking volunteer opportunities
Volunteering among older adults is known to have a positive impact, has been linked to a more vibrant social network and increased levels of physical activity, thereby extending life expectancy. There are many ways to help your community that provide social interactions outside of your day-to-day routine. Twice a week for the past seven years, Dorie Black, 90, a resident at The Tamalpais Marin, a Sequoia Living Life Care Community, has volunteered as a reading tutor for school-aged kids.
Through a Sequoia Living and AARP partnership, the Experience Corps Bay Area program matches volunteer tutors, aged 50 and older, with children in grades K-3 who need extra help in reading. “Being a reading tutor has given me a purpose and a routine,” said Black. “I have been tutoring for about seven years and during this time, I have tutored about 18 children.”
The program launched in 2007 in a single school. Today, Experience Corps Bay Area serves thousands of students throughout Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Sonoma counties. For more on the program, click here.
Senior living can help older adults overcome loneliness
Choosing a senior living community can be a daunting task for older adults and their caregivers. Determining the right fit and services is crucial, which is why many chose a Life Plan retirement community.
Sequoia Living’s four Life Plan communities include The Sequoias Portola Valley, The Sequoias San Francisco, The Tamalpais Marin, and Viamonte at Walnut Creek. Each community offers the full continuum of care. These communities attract active seniors who desire a lifestyle with full-service amenities such as dining, transportation, activities, group outings, fitness classes, and more.
Our programs and services help older adults remain social and avoid isolation. If you would like to donate or learn more about Sequoia Living’s work in the community, click here.