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Alone Together: How the Pandemic Showed Us Why We Really Need the Internet

July 16, 2020 

How Aging Adults Can Use Tech to Cope With Isolation

Financial Professionals: This article is based off of our popular8,000 Days module. Click here to access additional content to share.

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Popup Drive-ins have the obvious benefit of being outdoors with social distancing built right in.

 

In Hicksville, New York, dozens of families sat in their cars watching a sold-out showing of “The Goonies” at a drive-in theater. No, not in 1985—it was May 2020, and the pop-up screen was put up in a parking lot by the Broadway Commons mall. The disruptions caused by COVID-19 inspired businesses to creatively adapt in order to keep their companies afloat.

Similarly, people at home creatively adapted to a world where we couldn’t be around other people. When stay-at-home orders forced us into isolation, we decided to use technology to stay connected. That same technology may be life-changing for aging adults struggling with isolation in a post-pandemic world.

 

We’ll Cover Technology to Help Aging Loved Ones:

  • Stay connected to friends and family
  • Find and connect with others who share similar interests
  • Stay healthy and connected

 

First, Stay Connected to Friends and Family

During the pandemic, many of us felt disconnected and alone―maybe for the first time in our lives. Unwilling to settle for a solitary lifestyle, we picked up our smartphones and discovered new ways to connect with family and friends. While we hoped these tech solutions would be a short-term fix, they could have a lasting impact by helping aging loved ones fight isolation—even after the pandemic.

Isolation has severe health risks, especially for aging adults. There’s a 45% increased risk of mortality in seniors who report feeling lonely, making loneliness as dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.1 For many of us, isolating from others was a way to avoid getting and spreading COVID-19 and was therefore a socially-conscious choice (although it may not have felt that way). For many aging adults, however, isolation is a way of life.

 

Video Chatting Skyrocketed in Popularity

Once a seldom-utilized feature for many Americans, video chat apps were used to host countless birthday parties, graduation toasts, wedding ceremonies, as well as casual social gatherings in 2020. Zoom Suddenly Became a Household Name

Because we could talk to and see our friends virtually, the platform became a quarantine staple. Some families used Zoom to hold virtual reunions, including the North Carolina-based Williams family, who adapted their 125th consecutive reunion to the virtual platform in May. By jumping on a video call, almost 200 family members were able to connect and keep the tradition going.2

 

Prior to the Pandemic, ¼ of People Over 65 Were Socially Isolated

tech-isolation-pie

Older adults are at increased risk for loneliness and social isolation because they are more likely to face factors such as living alone, the loss of family or friends, chronic illness, and hearing loss.

Source: Loneliness and Social Isolation Linked to Serious Health Conditions, CDC, 2020

 

Houseparty Became Another Popular Video Chat App

Because of its unique option to facilitate group games, Houseparty was used by many in virtual gatherings. Groups of friends could see each other while laughing their way through games such as Heads Up, Karaoke, Quick Draw (Pictionary), and Trivia.

 

Some used FaceTime to Overcome Distance

FaceTime was a popular app for Apple users before the pandemic, but many only used it on occasion, despite it being automatically installed on their iPhones. During the pandemic, the app became a lifeline for lonely people yearning to see a loved one’s face in the midst of stay-at-home orders.

Last April, 92-year-old Jacqueline Kimmelsteil, who lives in a retirement community, used FaceTime to watch her 3-year-old great-grandson, Judah, learn how to ride his bike. With Jacqueline’s family living 100 miles away, she may never have gotten to see the milestone event without the app’s pandemic-inspired resurgence.3

The pandemic initiated a new way for aging adults to stay connected with friends and family: frequent video calls allowing them to be a larger part of each other’s lives. It may be more than a trend—it could be a long-term solution in the battle against isolation.

 

Second, Find and Connect With Others Who Share Similar Interests

Staying at home made it difficult for many people to meet others with common interests. However, with the increased use of several tech platforms, people have been able to make new social connections during the pandemic. And while those apps are being used by people of all ages, they are especially beneficial for aging adults looking to meet new people.

Making new friends as we age gets increasingly difficult. Our social circles typically shrink by half every seven years.4 However, because of the health risks associated with isolation, making new friends is essential for aging adults. And pandemic or not, technology makes it possible.

 

A Number of Connection-Based Websites Optimized Their Platforms for Social Distancing

One of them, Meetup, helps members find and connect with other people who share their unique interests. During the pandemic, Meetup began enabling members to meet virtually, which is a great way to form new connections. For instance, users can participate in book-club discussions or test their pipes with virtual karaoke.

Stitch, which bills itself as “the social community for anyone over 50”, is a similar website that connects users and promotes lasting companionship. In March, Stitch members found new friends by gathering virtually to learn to play the ukulele, participate in online trivia games, and partake in interactive cooking lessons.

For those wanting to connect with people with similar learning interests, some websites offer online courses on topics ranging from business skills to personal development to the social sciences. Known as MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), they are often inexpensive or free, and they require users to interact with the instructor as well as others in the class.

 

Coursera Offers Over 1,000 Digital Courses

The courses are offered by top universities such as Stanford and Duke. Coursera had over 25 million enrollments since mid-March. Its most popular free courses include a financial-markets course from Yale University, a programming course from the University of Toronto, and an introductory philosophy course from the University of Edinburgh. Global pop star Shakira completed a four-week Ancient Philosophy course through Coursera in the first month of the pandemic while her kids were sleeping.

A similar website, EdX offers 2,500 online courses from 140 institutions such as Harvard and MIT. Users can submerge themselves in subjects such as entrepreneurship, English, ethics or Excel (to name a few). Both Coursera and EdX even offer certificates at an additional cost for those looking to spruce up their resumes.

During the pandemic, these platforms helped many to cope with isolation by enabling them to explore their interests and make lifelong connections in the process. These apps can still be helpful post-pandemic for aging adults looking to find new friends.

 

Third, Stay Healthy and Connected

Gyms were some of the first businesses to close during the pandemic. Confined to our homes, many of us became less active. For aging adults, this is even more of a problem, as increased sedentary time and lack of activity contributes to the loss of mobility later on.5

However, websites designed to keep people connected with instructors or other eager participants are drawing lots of new attention. Sky Ting and YogaWorks, for example, stream popular yoga workouts throughout the day. Offered in real time, participants can feel like they’re in the room with the instructor and surrounded by other people doing the downward dog pose at the same time.

The Vitality Society website offers 50 live Zoom workout classes a month in dance, yoga, barre, and Pilates (to name a few) for people over 60. Participants can purchase a membership or pay per class.

On YouTube, there are several high-quality workout videos by the National Institute on Aging. The AARP website also features dozens of videos for short and effective workouts catered to aging people interested in being active at home.

 

Many Personal Trainers Adapted Their Training Sessions to Zoom During the Pandemic

To find a trainer, check out apps such as Trainiac and Future, which connect users with a trainer who will send workouts and get in touch through video chats and text messages. You can exercise at home with a trainer in your pocket (almost literally).

Pandemic or not, getting to the gym can be inconvenient; these online alternatives can be used many times throughout the day and in any room of the house. Some may grow to enjoy them even more than their gym experience! And for aging adults who may feel limited in their exercise options, these programs can change the way they think of exercise, for the better.

 

Will We Get Sick of Virtual Interactions?

Sure. Some people will inevitably delete their video chat apps as soon as they can safely leave the house. But for aging adults, especially those who struggle with isolation, these apps will continue offering a way to stay connected, which can be life-changing.

 

To Summarize

First, video chat platforms exploded in popularity for all ages and may continue having important applications for aging adults experiencing isolation. Second, there are a number of apps and websites to help aging loved ones connect with new people over similar interests. Finally, online platforms offer aging adults a convenient way to exercise, meditate, and stay healthy in their homes while interacting with others.

 

We Never Saw It Coming

No one expected a crisis that would force us into isolation.

But instead of accepting it as our fate, we figured out ways to use technology to combat it. We connected with family and friends over Zoom, joined virtual workouts, and went to drive-in movie theaters at malls. After the pandemic, we can use what we learned about these tech tools to help aging loved ones struggling with isolation.

 

Next Steps

  1. To stay connect with friends and family, try ideas in section 1, “Staying Connected”
  2. Decide which of the five categories are the most challenging right now. Explore and try the tools in those areas this week.
  3. Email this article or share it on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter
     


Sources

1 Data Source: Health Resources & Services Administration: The “Loneliness Epidemic,” data last reviewed January 2019.

2 Data Source: ABC 11, The Williams family overcomes COVID-19 to log their 125th consecutive family reunion, 5/10/20

3 Data Source: The Washington Post, For seniors, a silver lining: ‘The FaceTime is really quite unbelievable to me’, 4/13/20

4 Data Source: Stitch, How to Make Friends In Adulthood, 1/14/15. Most recent data available.

5 Data Source: Reuters, Sedentary time, lack of activity tied to seniors’ loss of mobility, 9/7/17

 

The information in this presentation is provided for informational purposes only. Hartford Mutual Funds may or may not be invested in the companies referenced herein; however, no endorsement of any product or service is being made.

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