Humans have always been social creatures. We thrive in communities and feel gratification as well as a sense of belonging.
Lately, though, many people have begun to withdraw from their normal interactions within a community. This is especially true with our older generations. About 25% of community-dwelling Americans age 65 and older are considered socially isolated, and a significant proportion of adults in the United States report feeling lonely. There are many reasons for this but, with the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of elderly people who become socially isolated might skyrocket.
I am a student in public health and a grandson to wise and loving grandparents. I believe in everyone having a story and being able to contribute to those around them. I am upset with the lack of openness to wisdom in others. Today, many people assume they know better and do not listen to those around them. Specifically, it’s frustrating that so many people don’t pay more attention to our elders who have so much to contribute.
With the fear of COVID-19, which is more dangerous to the older generations, and the imposed quarantine on elderly Americans, we are witnessing a drastic change in lifestyle. We have seen businesses, educational institutions and everyday people look toward technology for solutions. But many older Americans are essentially cut off from the rest of the world because they don’t understand technology many of us use to maintain a sense of normalcy.
This lack of attention toward our elders can lead to health issues, including depression. With the great leap in technology over the years, many elders have been kept on the sidelines and not given much encouragement to join our technological community. This has led to an increased risk of social isolation and increase in potential psychological and health issues.
There has been some research done with information and technology that stresses the role of unified communications. This could alleviate social isolation among the elderly and become the way people still contribute to their communities. Creating age-friendly hardware and software design would have public health benefits. Enlisting the help of local schools and organizations to provide and educate our elderly with these means would significantly help our older population reconnect with the community.
We must more directly integrate our elderly into our technological world to alleviate any unnecessary loneliness many of them feel. With everyone connected, we will have a better and more unified world that allows one of the wisest groups to truly contribute.
Thomas Reid is a student in the public health master’s program at SUNY Downstate.