Social Isolation Does Not Mean You Have to Be Lonely

man with COVID-19 mask outdoors touching hands through glass with elderly woman

Social Isolation Does Not Mean You Have to Be Lonely

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May 8, 2020, 9:27 am | Jeongeun Lee, Natasha Peterson

AMES, Iowa – Over the past several weeks, many Iowans have been self-isolating to protect themselves and their communities from COVID-19. However, self-isolation can lead to increased loneliness and social isolation, particularly for older adults, according to Jeongeun Lee, an Iowa State University assistant professor and extension specialist in human development and family studies.
Because older adults are at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19, self-isolation is important for their safety during this pandemic. At the same time, social connection is important for their wellbeing.
“During ordinary times, any regular contact with family, neighbors, friends, faith communities and social services – such as meal delivery or home care assistance – can serve as important points of social contact and support. These can be a lifeline for social connection,” Lee said.
However, social distancing due to COVID-19 has disrupted many of these opportunities for social connection, creating further isolation.
“The current crisis is affecting almost everyone’s routines and some ‘non-essential’ social services. This means that the usual social support and contacts older adults have with others are diminished,” Lee said.
“There are ways to stay connected even as we isolate ourselves from each other. Everyone has a role to play in supporting older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Lee said.
Lee offered these suggestions for helping older adults:

  • Provide emotional support for people via phone calls or messages. This can be an extremely lonely time for many. Call people and provide them with support.
  • Video-chat or connect via texting or social media, if the person with whom you want to connect is comfortable using these options.
  • If you are good at using technology and social media, you can help others who may not be. Call them and show them remotely how to find friends and find reliable information and advice online.
  • Ask how they are doing during this time, how their routines might have had to change and what they are doing to cope with stress.
  • Encourage them to keep doing the activities that are allowable during COVID-19 for their community, and that they identify as being most helpful for them, such as daily exercise or a walk, stretching, listening to or playing music, reading, and meditation or prayer.
  • Help them seek medical advice or care if they are experiencing symptoms of physical or mental health decline.
  • Express gratitude and appreciation for any support you get from your relationship with them. Let them know what you admire about the way they conduct their life.

“It’s important that we all care for each other during this challenging and uncertain time. By taking a few simple actions, you can make all the difference in an older person’s life when they may need it the most,” Lee said.


The following resources may be helpful to older adults and their family caregivers.

Photo credit: JHDT Productions/

About the Authors: 

Jeongeun Lee

Human Development and Family Studies

Natasha Peterson

Human Development and Family Studies
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