Responding to Older Adult Isolation and Depression During COVID-19 Concerns

Shared by Beverly Chang, MD, Geriatric Psychiatrist

We find ourselves in unprecedented times, where the world we knew even three weeks ago has so rapidly changed. Humans are a social species that turn towards each other during difficult times, and the need to band together while being mandated to stay apart has been challenging. In my practice, I have always stressed the components of “healthy aging” to patients. These include cognitive, physical, and social stimulation.

I have been a longtime proponent of engaging outlets that address these components of healthy aging, including activities such as: pickle ball tournaments, social dance gatherings, faith-based groups, book club meetings, volunteering, and communal dining. However, these opportunities have seemingly dwindled as we try to find our new normal. Even in our limited contact with each other, it will be important to remind ourselves that social distancing is not the same as social isolation.

Social distancing implies that we maintain the connections that fuel our mental and emotional wellbeing while preventing the potential spread of COVID-19. Social isolation, on the other hand, may lead to depression and anxiety. Older adults are at particularly high risk due to factors such as cognitive impairment, lack of familiarity with virtual platforms like Zoom and Facebook, and physical limitations—such as being unable to take a walk and enjoy the outdoors, and challenges preparing a nourishing meal.

It is important that we lift each other up during this difficult time. Even frequent brief phone calls can be helpful—just checking in and touching base. In some cases, for those who are living in senior care communities, staff may be willing to assist residents with the use of smart phones so they can hear a friendly voice. Also, whether we are living alone or being a primary caregiver for a loved one, a structured day can be helpful for alleviating the uncomfortable sense that the world feels out of control. A simple, predictable routine can help manage our understandable anxiety and fears and bring some peaceful normalcy.

Though social outlets as we know them have changed, we can still empower ourselves to find creative ways of maintaining our wellbeing. For adults 65+ on participating Medicare Plans, SilverSneakers is offering free home exercises on streaming video: The New York Times has allowed free access to many articles with ideas to keep engaged: Additionally, online learning is available through companies like Coursera:, or University of California Davis Mini Medical School:

During this difficult season, building a routine to learn, grow and connect during each day will bring calm to our new normal. Just like your prior gatherings and social get-togethers may have happened on a regular schedule, it’s now time to plan activities in a different way—set a time each morning to make a phone call, complete a crossword puzzle, organize family photos, or sit on your porch in the sunshine and read a book. Developing intentional structure every day and making time to connect with others on any level will be key.

I try to remind myself that the storm always ends to welcome a bright sky—the highest tidal wave always breaks. We just need to weather it… together.

To gather more information, please visit:

Beverly Chang, MD,  Geriatric Psychiatrist   
Geriatric Psychiatry Direct
5701 Lonetree Blvd. Ste. 323   
Rocklin, CA 95765    

Watch our interview with Dr. Chang

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