The elderly face unique faith, connection challenges during a pandemic

Oct 1, 2020, 10:38 AM
COVID-19 tests assisted living elderly pandemic...
FILE - In this July 17, 2020 file photo, a senior citizen holds the hand of a care coordinator at a Health facility in Miami. The elderly are among some of the most at-risk for coronavirus, which means they are also more likely to become isolated as a result of it. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

SALT LAKE CITY — One of the most vulnerable populations to the coronavirus pandemic may also be one of the most isolated: the elderly. 

Six months into the pandemic, many elderly Utahns remain home to protect their health, but as a result, may feel lonely or isolated. 

Faith, once an oasis of connection for those groups, may seem stretched thin. But experts say there are ways to help. 

Connections for the elderly during the pandemic

Many wards of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will start streaming more of their meetings online after General Conference. Other religions have started using Zoom or other video platforms to reach their congregations.

Mental health advocates like Kim Meyers say that is very helpful to those who have not gone to church in months.

“Absolutely. Any way we can decrease people being cut off from their opportunities for engagement and connection, is crucial, and we know people’s faith connections are a big part of that,” said Meyers, who is the assistant director with the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health.

Other ways to connect

And besides the virtual connections, Meyers says people in those faith communities can also stop by and say hi from the sidewalk. Or sit and talk with their older friends and family members outside.

Research shows loneliness is a significant health issue. It can affect physical health, and even lead to early death. Meyers says this pandemic has exacerbated the problem for the elderly.

“Social isolation is the lack of contact with others, while loneliness is the feeling that one is emotionally disconnected. So how do we emotionally connect, while staying safe, is the important question,” said Meyers.

Help from community advocates

Community partners and advocates are working on that.

Afton January, with Salt Lake County Aging and Adult Services, says call your loved ones and check in. They need their family. But they also need their peers.

So the organization has opened a virtual senior center.

“That means older adults who are staying home and staying safe can still have interactions with our staff, with our instructors, and other older people that they normally would have spent time with at the senior center,” she said.

January says the Aging and Adult Services staff has made 7,000 calls every month to seniors around Salt Lake County. Family and neighbors can do the same.

“Obviously call your grandmother and see how she is doing, call your grandad and talk to him about what’s happening in sports right now, or whatever,” she said. “But also see if they are connected on social media. Find out if the older adults in your life know how to use Facebook, or TikTok and some of these fun things online. Do they know how to use Zoom, or Facetime, or other types of video technologies?” 

How else to help

And practice with them. Help them before their church or community class or family reunion Zoom. If you are not sick, you can also go to their home with a mask and set it up.

“Technology is not a substitute for in-person engagement, but it certainly is an opportunity to check in regularly,” said Meyers.

Meyers says older adults often have many medical appointments. That’s when health care providers should screen them for loneliness and social isolation. And the rest of us can find ways to reach out and emotionally connect, while being safe.

Today’s Top Stories

All News

American Leadership Academy pictured....
Elizabeth Weiler

American Leadership Academy responds to homecoming incident

American Leadership Academy responded to allegations of body shaming and dress code at a high school homecoming dance.
14 hours ago
run marathon running salt lake...
Elizabeth Weiler

Marathon runner to set record in the name of dyslexia: 26 miles in costume

Hannah Holt, an avid marathon runner and award-winning children's book author hopes to bring attention to dyslexia by running while dressed as a book.
14 hours ago
A service member of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic walks past a banner on the doors ...
Anna Chernova, Joshua Berlinger and Rob Picheta, CNN

Putin to host ceremony annexing occupied Ukrainian territories on Friday, Kremlin says

Some of the separatist leaders involved in carrying out sham referendums to secede from Ukraine and join Russia landed in Moscow Thursday, according to a photograph posted by the Russia-appointed deputy head of the Kherson regional military administration Kirill Stremousov.
14 hours ago
Orem police at scene of swat standoff...
Samantha Herrera

Man in custody after hours of negotiation in Orem home

A possible Orem City SWAT situation has police officers on scene in a neighborhood around 700 E, 400 S. Police have not provided any information yet.
14 hours ago
People at the BYU game in Florida dealing with rain....
Adam Small

Chance of thunderstorms Thursday could affect BYU game

BYU faced difficult weather during its game in Florida, and now the weather might be messing with tonight's game against the Aggies.
14 hours ago
Picture reads scam alert! missed jury scam targeting utahns....
Mark Jackson

Federal, state authorities warn of return of missed jury duty, outstanding warrant scam

Officials are warning Utahns -- and those is surrounding states -- about a missed jury or warrant scam that aims to get money out of victims.
14 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Young woman receiving laser treatment...
Form Derm Spa

How facial plastic surgery and skincare are joining forces

Facial plastic surgery is not only about looking good but about feeling good too. The medical team at Form Spa are trained to help you reach your aesthetic outcomes through surgery and through skincare and dermatology, too.
large group of friends tohether in a park having fun...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

What differentiates BYU’s MBA program from other MBA programs

Commitment to service is at the heart of BYU’s MBA program, which makes it stand out among other MBA programs across the country.
a worker with a drill in an orange helmet installs a door in the house...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

Home improvement tip: Increase the value of your home by weatherproofing doors

Make sure your home is comfortable before the winter! Seasonal maintenance keeps your home up to date. Read our tips on weatherproofing doors.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
A paper reading IRS, internal revenue service is pictured...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
The elderly face unique faith, connection challenges during a pandemic