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CONVERGE | Technology

In the Time of COVID-19, A Phone Call Can Mean Everything

July 22, 2020

Regular communication with your older, isolated loved ones makes a big difference in their world...and in yours.

Whether on the phone or over the internet, small daily connections can prove the key to alleviating loneliness for aging adults who must self-isolate

For older adults living alone in lockdown or in socially distanced senior communities or in their own homes, those three little words can make a world of difference: How are you?

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, aging adults were more likely to feel isolated and lonely and live with the associated health risks such as chronic illness, cognitive decline, anxiety and depression. Now as many older adults are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, strict social distancing rules have meant they may become even more isolated from their communities.

Yet small interactions like a daily phone call can help maintain a sense of connection for those who must self-isolate and remind them that they matter.

Just Called to Say...

The simple act of checking in by phone can be a powerful antidote to loneliness in isolated adults, helping to create a daily structure for connecting with someone else.

That's the guiding tenet of the One Call a Day program, launched by Cox in June to match employee volunteers with aging adults across the U.S. Volunteer Delvin, for example, calls Patrick every day, checking in on how he's feeling, as well as learning about Patrick's past serving his country in the military and sharing stories from his own experiences as a veteran.

Many of the older adults participating in One Call a Day miss the daily interactions that are made more difficult by social distancing. With volunteers phoning them, they report the encouragement, support and positivity they feel in having someone to regularly check in with — and share milestone days and stories of special memories. Phone calls often ripple with laughter, which may really be the best medicine: Laughing has been shown to create social bonds, increase wellbeing and counter loneliness.

The Telephone Reassurance Program created by senior services agency Eskaton underscores the importance of the daily call. Over two decades, volunteers have made over 1.6 million check-in calls to housebound seniors in Sacramento, Calif., many of whom have cited the calls as a “lifesaver." 

All About Connection

For many, staying in touch with older family members while social distancing has required the use of technology, including video calls on phones, tablets and computers.

One national study found that older adults who used video chat apps such as FaceTime, WhatsApp, Skype or Zoom were at significantly lower risk of depression, as they could stay engaged with friends and family, and share in birthdays and other memorable days. Chatting over video also allows family members to visually check on older loved ones, helping ensure their wellbeing despite being physically apart.

Along with reliable internet, help downloading or using a video chat app can be a vital ingredient in nurturing this virtual connection.

Feel-Good for Both Sides

Perhaps the most powerful testament to these small moments of connection are the benefits that programs like One Call a Day offer for people on both ends of the phone line.

Cox volunteers phoning older adults often say how much they gain from their daily conversations with someone who has lived a long and full life. Eric, a recruiter for Cox Enterprises who was matched with National Guard veteran Joe, describes the strength of their bond and how much he values Joe's life experience and his perspective on today's world.

In these times of socially distanced living, people of all ages may be isolated from their friends and family. Regular connection, whether it's by phone call or video chat, not only maintains — and strengthens — our bonds to those we love the most. It can also forge new and important bonds with other members of our community.

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