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4 Creative Ways for Older Adults to Stay Connected

July 22, 2020

From virtual line dancing to online teaching, the internet can help you stay social during self-isolation.

Staying active and nurturing hobbies are two important ways for older adults to feel socially connected, yet distancing measures have isolated many aging people from their peers and loved ones.

Enter a new, virtual world of socializing and entertainment. Many adults over the age of 65 have turned to the internet to stay connected in lockdown, getting familiar with technology such as Zoom catchups, online shopping and virtual classes.

Older adults, especially those more vulnerable to COVID-19, may face prolonged social distancing. But these virtual activities are a great way to challenge the mind, engage the body and combat isolation by providing a way to connect with others in the community.

1. Attending a Virtual Senior Center

Social distancing measures have meant the closure of senior centers, isolating numerous older adults who had relied on these centers — and their events — for companionship and support.

Some centers are going online. San Diego's Oasis partnered with Cox Communications to create a fully virtual environment, with its entire schedule live-streamed and interactive. Participants can join classes in subjects such as tai chi, dance, philosophy and Spanish via video conferencing apps, allowing them to talk — and two-step — in real-time, together. 

Vickie, an Oasis regular, described how encouraging it was to return to the online center and reconnect with members of her line dancing class while reviving her physical skills. Not only do such virtual connections nurture existing relationships, they also help with staying active and engaged in pre-lockdown hobbies.

2. Sewing Masks for the Community

With protective face masks now compulsory in public settings, sewing masks for neighbors or community organizations without sufficient resources can make a real difference. That sense of contribution can significantly improve quality of life for aging adults.

At the Westhills Village Retirement Community in Rapid City, S.D., for example, several residents banded together to sew masks for fellow residents, staff and the local medical community in a bid to stay active and positive.

There are plenty of patterns for cloth masks available for free, through sites like FreeSewing Open Source Project, as well as many organizations in need of protective masks.

3. Playing Classic Games, Online

Even if you can't get together with family right now, you can still enjoy the communal fun of playing board games together.

Skribbl is a free, online Pictionary-like game that can be played on laptop or desktop, with the ability to add as many friends — or grandchildren — as desired.

For word aficionados, Pogo offers the official online version of Scrabble to be played on computer. Those with Facebook accounts can play the similar Lexulous on the social media platform, while Words with Friends is an intuitive, well-designed smartphone app for Scrabble-like play.

On the phone or tablet, there's a great selection of family-friendly board games too, with Android and iOS apps for classic games such as Clue, The Game of Life, chess, checkers and, of course, Monopoly. These usually cost a few dollars — once loved ones have the app, players can challenge them to a friendly game. 

4. Being the (Virtual) Teacher

Learning new skills is great for keeping mentally and emotionally active, but so is teaching others the wisdom gleaned over a long and well-lived life.

In England, several schools operate initiatives to connect pupils with older people, from helping retirees write autobiographies to working together on ceramics or photography projects. According to one organizer, these intergenerational partnerships provide inspiration and improved wellbeing for both students and adults, while strengthening local communities.

During times of social distancing, older adults might find joy and stimulation in taking on a teacher role — by discussing historic events during their childhoods or young adult years, or asking adult children or grandkids to collaborate in putting together their life story.

Whether over a video app or daily phone call, these meaningful connections can prove the key to keeping people close — even when they're physically apart.

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