Seniors and Social Distancing: What You Need to Know

AdobeStock/Marina Andrejchenko

Allison Gould, a clinical social worker at the Center for Healthy Aging, Northern Dutchess Hospital, comments on our most vulnerable demographic.

What are you seeing so far in terms of your clients’ concerns?

Because I work with the aging population, there are real concerns amongst my clients about their age and/or other health conditions putting them, as well as loved ones, in a higher-risk category for severe or catastrophic illness should they be exposed to COVID-19. Many have chosen to take strict precautions, or self-isolate, in order to protect themselves. This action is both empowering and extremely difficult. Isolation is something that seniors work hard to avoid — after having raised families and retiring from work, they’ve worked hard to redefine and create fulfillment in later life. They have relatives and friends whom they visit with frequently. It goes without saying that removing themselves from these dynamics can quickly bring feelings of loneliness, worry, and frustration.

Many of those seniors are now facing dilemmas regarding interactions with others who may have been coming to help them — a home health aide, a van service for weekly grocery store trips. With concerns about exposure, seniors have to weigh the costs of continuing, or not continuing, to have what otherwise would have been essential interactions.

Are you seeing any denial?

Yes, there has definitely been some denial. Folks who are not particularly concerned, who don’t understand all the fuss. But the majority of those I am working with are taking the situation seriously, are concerned not only for themselves, but for the community and world at large.

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In terms of acceptance, over a lifetime, seniors become very practiced at this, which is helpful in the current climate. The loss of loved ones, a change in circumstances or lifestyle, a move, retirement… In many ways, they are more prepared than anyone to look this situation head on and roll with it.

What can we do to support the seniors in our lives?

They want to hear from you; they worry about you as much as you are worrying about them. You’d do well to call them on the telephone. Some seniors are incredibly tech-savvy and will easily get the hang of apps like FaceTime or Zoom, but not all of them will. The telephone is something they relate to. Call them when you have some time to chat, not just check in. Keep them company.

What shouldn’t we do?

Instead of calling and telling them what they should be doing to keep themselves healthy, ask them what they have been doing to take care of themselves or keep busy. Trust them when they tell you they are all right and don’t need a jigsaw puzzle or crossword to make it through the day. Believe in their ability to make good choices for themselves. Be curious about their thoughts, ideas, and concerns regarding this virus. Ask for their perspective from their historical view. Look to them for wisdom and guidance.

How can the caregivers take care of themselves?

Usually, when I first discuss the concept of self-care with a caregiver, the initial reaction is one of doubt. But when I break it down and explain that self-care does not necessarily mean a week-long tropical vacation, hours at a spa, or binge-watching Netflix, then slowly they come to recognize that there is time for small self-care practices and that these small practices, do make a difference.

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What is the main takeaway for our readers?

Seniors have been through a lifetime of experiences, both hardships and great achievements. They are largely resilient, accepting, and wise beings. We need to support them and help them stay healthy; but we also need to trust them, and ourselves, as we travel this path together, even while apart.

Online Support For All Ages

Here are just a few of the many organizations providing virtual help during this crisis.

United Way goes above and beyond with a multi-pronged effort to combat challenges attached to the coronavirus. Local chapters include the Dutchess-Orange Region, Ulster County, and Westchester-Putnam. United Way’s 2-1-1 Helpline is a free, confidential, multilingual service to assist the public in finding the answers to a variety of Health and Human Services-related questions. Go to to find your branch.

Amid the tumult of the coronavirus crisis, Support Connection Breast & Ovarian Support Group offers peer counseling by phone or email for anyone who needs an outlet to talk through their emotions. Online, the Yorktown Heights-based program has a guided meditation class to reduce stress, as well as a number of educational webinars to make the most of time at home. Because all resources are free for those who need them, online donations are much appreciated.

In late March, Nuvance Health launched Virtual Visits for primary and specialty care. Patients of Health Quest Medical Practice, The Heart Center, and Western Connecticut Medical Group can talk to their providers using a mobile app or online through their computer.

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CareMount Medical also has a Virtual Visit tab on its website, which directs patients to call their provider’s office to determine if a virtual visit will work for them. Patients can schedule a visit with their general practitioner or their child’s pediatrician, and most of CareMount’s 50-plus specialists.

Join an Alcoholics Anonymous Zoom meeting by going to this directory and searching for a meeting that fits your need.

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