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Keep connected during holiday while staying safe

For many of us, engaging in activities that connect us to each other and to our communities can enrich our lives and help us stay healthy. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused Americans of all ages to adjust to lives with fewer in-person social connections than ever before. Unaddressed, this social isolation can lead to loneliness and can impact our physical and mental health. This is particularly true for older adults who are more likely to live alone and whose social circles may be smaller in number or limited by access to technology.

What is Social Isolation? When we can’t see or touch our friends and family members, when our usual community activities are on hold, when we lose a sense of connection to others because we rarely leave our homes, and when we yearn for the purpose those regular interactions gave us, it’s easy to feel socially isolated or lonely. Our minds and bodies can respond to the stress of social isolation and loneliness in many ways.

Some effects, such as feelings of loneliness and anxiety are felt immediately. Other effects, such as inflammation, heart disease and cognitive decline, may develop over time. By increasing our connections to others and to those around us, we can reduce the negative effects social isolation and loneliness can have on our minds and bodies. Whether it is through finding new–or revisiting old– ways of staying connected to others, we can take control of our health and happiness.

In response to COVID-19, Offices for Aging and other community organizations around the country swiftly developed programs to provide a variety of ways to help older adults stay connected in their communities. Whether by moving an exercise class online or creating new activities to build connections, local organizations are offering new interactive options for activities that had taken place in person prior to COVID-19. Chautauqua County OFAS worked with Doc Hamels and the crew at Chautauqua Sunrise to tape our nutrition education series Eat Healthy Be Active as well as Healthy Bones and Tai Chi.

Thanks to the generosity of the station owner, these are all running on the Mayville Access Channel 5 and some can also be found on YouTube under Chautauqua Strong and Healthy. Other local resources include our Office for Aging Services and Chautauqua County DOH Facebook pages and websites. Our friends at Erie County Senior Services have developed a whole page of local resources to Combat Social Isolation at https://www2.erie.gov/seniorservices. Their list includes behind the scenes videos from the Niagara Aquarium, WNED productions, E-books from Erie County Library, music from local artists, National Comedy Center Anywhere and more.

If technology and on-line programming is not your thing, older adults can stay connected by reaching out to others the old fashion way. Make a phone call to a friend or family member to share recipe/craft ideas or to chat about the latest movie or TV show you’ve watched. Send a letter or card to a loved one to help brighten their day– and yours.

I plan on sending a lot more Christmas cards this year since there many friends and family I won’t see this holiday season. Engaging in physical activity such as a walk or online group exercise classes can boost endorphins and reduce feelings of loneliness. Office for Aging has several CDs of local exercise programs like Healthy Bones that we will send to you free of charge. Contact NY Connects for a copy and other ideas to stay physically active. Another way to stay connected is by volunteering to help others by sharing your skills from home. To help you get started, a best-practices guide from the AARP Foundation (www.connect2affect. org) contains useful tips for virtual volunteers. You can also contact NYConnects or the national Eldercare Locator to find local volunteer opportunities near you. Being creative can also help combat your feelings of loneliness and isolation.

I have been doing a lot of crafting in the last few months; making pine cone wreaths; creating gnomes out of fabric and wood; and knitting Christmas gifts. Engaging in art, whether joining a (virtual) singing group, or taking an online drawing or dance class, can offer your brain and body an outlet for expression and engagement. Learning new things is always good for your brain health. For those who struggle with navigating and using online tools but want to improve, try the “Stuck at Home Guide: How to Get Online,” a guide by Senior Planet (www.seniorplanet.org). It contains helpful tips for getting started online, on social media and on Zoom meetings. Visit www.seniorplanet.org/stuckat-home-guide-get-online.

The next few months are critical for our nation in the fight against COVID 19. We do not want us to lose any more people than we already have to this terrible disease. But it’s up to every person to do their part. Show your love and respect for each other this holiday season by reducing/eliminating unnecessary errands, outings, and social gatherings. Help the vulnerable with necessary tasks like groceries so they can stay socially distant…and WEAR A MASK, PLEASE!

Even around friends and family who don’t live with you. Do everything you can this year to prevent the spread of COVID to those you love so we can all be together next year!

Thank you to the Eldercare Locator for most of the content of this article from their “Home for the Holidays” campaign. For information about community services across the nation visit the Eldercare Locator’s website at www.eldercare.acl.gov or contact its Call Center at (800) 677-1116. For more information on programs and services in Chautauqua County or anything in this article or call our NY Connects helpline at 753-4582 or e-mail us at ccnyc@co.chautauqua.ny.us

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