Who could have imagined our quarantined life a month ago when the coronavirus was just beginning to spread in the U.S.? Staying at home and staying away from others is the new normal. While these measures are necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19, they raise serious concerns about social isolation and loneliness, not only for older adults but for everyone. Before the pandemic, an estimated 1 in 3 older adults reported being lonely. And as we know, loneliness and social isolation are linked to a range of health issues.
While everyday habits are changing, what shouldn’t change is a focus on human communication and building a strong community. Social distancing does not mean withdrawing from society. Rather, we should view it as an invitation to contribute and connect in other ways to the communities we live in.
If you didn’t know it before, I’m an optimist. I look for the silver lining in any challenging situation. And I believe that this unforeseen pandemic offers an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the collective mission and values of the Shepherd’s Centers network.
Some of my hopes:
- Our experiences with social distancing will bolster appreciation—and support—for older adults to experience face-to-face connection and the joys of friendship through Shepherd’s Centers. Because of the current social restrictions, suddenly vast numbers of others are beginning to understand what it feels like to be lonely and isolated. This deeper empathy could be transformative to further our mission when the crisis is behind us.
- The network will closely collaborate like never before to advance our common mission and enjoy success from a stronger network community. We’re all in this together, and we’re pulling together to share emergency policies and responses, communication strategies to stakeholders, and network-wide lifelong learning sessions. Additionally, we’re learning to use technology in new ways. These new skills can help us stay connected and strengthen communication now and for years to come.
- The images and notions of aging in America will be more realistic. Some older adults are more vulnerable and need support to remain living safely and independently. Other older adults continue to be leaders contributing to society in significant ways, from licensed medical practitioners coming out of retirement to volunteers stepping up in service. (Let’s hope the petition to crown Dr. Anthony Fauci as the “sexiest man alive” for People Magazine’s 2020 issue will come to fruition, creating a powerfully strong image of aging.)
Shepherd’s Centers connect older adults and create caring relationships that bind society together, whether we’re close together or far apart. You continue to inspire us through your many acts of care and compassion and for the many ways you continue serving during this epidemic. Thank you!