The COVID-19 pandemic has been tough on most people, especially older adults who are in higher risk categories. Many nursing homes or other senior communities have drastically limited visits, in an effort to keep residents, staff and visitors safe.
Loneliness is a serious issue faced by many people, but especially older adults. A study from the University of Michigan in June showed that nearly twice as many people over the age of 50 responded that they often felt isolated from others compared to a similar study in 2018. Recomendations from medical experts that people limit gatherings for the recent Thanksgiving holiday and the upcoming Christmas holidays could make loneliness worse.
A 2019 article cited a report from the American Psychological Association that found chronic loneliness occurs when there’s a lack of emotional, mental or financial resources to meet a person’s social need. Health risks are heightened. Depression, poor sleep quality, impaired decision-making, cardiovascular issues and declined immunity are among the negative health consequences.
The Vatican Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life launched a campaign Nov. 27 aimed at encouraging young people to reach out to their grandparents and other older people. The dicastery stated that this could help alleviate the isolation and loneliness caused by pandemic restrictions, and encouraged asking older adults for “the gift of their wisdom.”
“Today, in the difficult circumstances of a Christmas still overshadowed by the pandemic, we are proposing that young people post on social media a memory, a piece of advice or a ‘gift of wisdom’ they have received from one of the elderly people with whom they have formed a bond in recent months,” according to a statement on the initiative.
Pope Francis has repeatedly decried a culture that views some people as disposable simply because they aren’t as efficient or productive as they once were.
“With tenacity, we are called to build a different society, one that is more welcoming, more human, more inclusive, which does not need to discard those who are weak in body and mind” the pope said in 2019. “The future… will be in the dialogue between young and old.”
The pandemic poses a challenge to reaching out to older adults, but those challenges shouldn’t stop us. This Advent, and the Christmas season that follows, should be a time for all of us to support anyone who feels lonely. There’s no one way to do so, but it starts with reaching out and offering human contact, in whatever safe way we can.