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Isolation getting harder for older adults, could have health impact

HOUSTON – Social distancing has been tough for a lot of people, especially our elderly friends and family. This long period of isolation is causing more than just mental stress for some. How do you know if someone you love is suffering from depression? What can you do to help them? We are here to help.

Connecting with neighbors

From brightly colored chalk drawings to a heartfelt song from the driveway, the Darville family from Kingwood use creative ways to reach out to their homebound neighbors.

“I think a lot of the elderly are really lonely right now, so just to bring them a little joy is just, that’s what we want,” said Whitney Darville.

The family has formed a special bond with neighbors Don and Ronnie Sheera. Interacting with them really brightens their days during this time.

“They do bring a lot to me and my husband and we look forward to it when we see them,” said neighbor Ronnie Sheera, “with them they bring their youth and their energy and they get me going again.”

While Ronnie and Don have the Darville family to connect with, many seniors are suffering during these prolonged social distancing measures.

“In the last six to eight weeks, have been really, really tough,” said Dr. Carmel Dyer, UT Health. “I’ve had patients break down on phone calls. I’ve had people who have tackled previous addictions - people are saying, ‘I just can’t stand it.’"

Signs of depression in seniors

Dyer says when seniors are socially isolated for too long, their immune systems can decline and brain chemicals are not stimulated like before. Depression is common.

“An older adult could say they feel depressed, or they don’t feel depressed. Instead, they want to sleep all of the time, they are not eating, the memory will change suddenly,” Dyer explained. “Three months ago they were fine, now they are very forgetful they are scatterbrained.”

Caseworkers with Adult Protective Services are also checking in on seniors who are homebound during this time.

“During the COVID, I’ve noticed there’s a lot more isolation overwhelmedness because they are afraid because they are a vulnerable population,” said Shelby Mersing, Adult Protective Services Specialist.

Experts say even the smallest gestures like chalk art messages can make a big difference.

“A few of them have cried and just said it was like the sweetest thing they’ve ever seen,” said Whitney.

“It’s a wonderful break to my day,” said Ronnie.

Resources to help isolated seniors

Getting seniors involved is one way to help with the social isolation impact.

“As much as folks can take advantage of the technology, the zoom calls, have them call their friends, have them write letters,” Dyer said.

There are also virtual opportunities for connecting. Here are a few places where you or your loved one can connect. These groups either host virtual events or “meet-ups” for seniors or they can help connect you with a place that does.

Houston Health Department

Catholic Charities

YMCA

Houston Parks Department

Houston Public Library

United Way