Social engagement while aging

Social isolation during the pandemic disproportionately impacted the most disadvantaged and vulnerable communities in Washington. Connection with others is critical to health and well-being in all age groups — elders, young parents, teens, veterans, family caregivers. What can we learn from the pandemic years to encourage strong social connections?

Build on existing community groups

Develop programs that incorporate churches, senior centers, local businesses, food banks, neighborhood centers, gyms, libraries and community health clinics. Many organizations in our communities know their clientele and can help identify and support socially isolated seniors and other vulnerable people.

Amplify the efforts of volunteers and non-profit organizations

Identify organizations and volunteers in your community who are creating positive changes and support their efforts and services. They offer both help and opportunities to serve.

Support aging in place by strengthening neighborhoods and intergenerational connections

Most people want to stay in their homes as they age, maintaining their neighborhood and community ties in familiar surroundings. Encourage neighbors to join together to support each other by solving community problems. Harness the strengths of the generations to help each other — senior tutors, youth tech support, grandparents mentoring young parents. Tap into the strengths of community.

Increase broadband access to build digital connectivity

We made a dramatic leap into online services, meetings, shopping, and socializing during the pandemic. Let’s build on it.

  • Video calls make it possible for homebound citizens to attend meetings, legislative hearings, conferences, social clubs, and family dinners, allowing involvement in activities that in pre-pandemic times required in-person attendance.
  • Online services for medical visits, counseling sessions, veterinary services, exercise classes, classes, and support groups grew during the pandemic. When face-to-face contact is not required, online services make efficient use of time for providers and clients.
  • Online shopping with home delivery or curbside pickup can make life easier for people with mobility challenges
  • With imagination we can create new ways to foster social connections and provide services more equitably on digital platforms.

Broadband access is more than wiring

Having broadband service in a community does not translate to broadband access for all. Users must have a cell phone or computer, room in the budget for monthly fees, and the technical skills to connect and maintain equipment. While some elders have no interest in learning to use computers, many would enjoy digital connections if they had friendly support to get started.

Across all age groups, the pandemic has revealed the need for community technical support that is easily available. Basic training in computer skills, internet use, video conferencing, and commonly used software could help bridge the skills gap that keeps some in our communities digitally isolated. We urge providing accessible technology classes and services through public libraries, community colleges, senior centers, public schools after hours, and churches. Younger tech-savvy volunteers are a community resource for how-to help for individuals and long-term care facilities who want to connect digitally.

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