Staying Engaged and Avoiding Social Isolation

During the COVID-19 pandemic, staying at home and social distancing can be critical to avoiding exposure to the virus, but social isolation and loneliness can have devastating results. In fact, a recent study found that social isolation can be as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Fortunately, there are many ways to stay engaged, active, and connected--both with and without technology. Here are some resources that can help promote social engagement.

Helping Yourself and Others Stay Engaged

Tips to Avoid Social Isolation and Manage Anxiety from AARP

Guidelines from our partners at the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response include this great list of suggestions by AARP:

  • Develop a plan to connect with family, friends or loved ones: Talk to family and friends to develop a plan to safely stay in touch during social distancing. This is especially important for people living alone.

  • Limit news consumption: Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
  • Care for living things: Caring for pets or plants provides a sense of purpose and improved health.
  • Take care of your body: Physical activity such as walking or light stretching helps calm tension; eat healthy, well-balanced meals, and avoid alcohol and drug abuse. It is also important to get adequate sleep.
  • Listen to music, find activities that bring joy: Beyond the music and activities available in the common living area shared by residents there are music events and activities online, such as free livestreamed concerts. National Public Radio is maintaining a list of Live Virtual Concerts.
  • Keep your mind active: Completing puzzles (e.g., jigsaw, crossword, sudoku), reading, and engaging in art projects helps to keep the mind occupied and can improve cognitive functioning.
  • Use calming techniques: Such as deep breathing, stretching, meditation, prayer, taking a warm bath or shower, or sitting with a pet.
  • Find ways to laugh: Watch a TV show, or chat with a friend or family member who brings joy.
  • Create short personal videos that can be shared between family and loved ones.

More Tips from ACL and our Partners

  • ACL's Eldercare Locator and engAGED: The National Resource Center for Engaging Older Adults, which are both funded by ACL and administered by n4a put together these suggestions for how older adults -- and people of any age -- can prevent social isolation and loneliness while staying safe. This customizable flyer is available in English and Spanish.
  • This activity guide from the California Department of Aging has ideas that can help people of any age stay engaged. Now might be a great time to pick up that hobby you had in childhood, for example.
  • The Humanitarian Disaster Institute, a faith-based academic disaster research center at Wheaton College, has suggestions for connecting  while social distancing guidelines are in place.
  • Erie County, New York, developed a Social Isolation webpage that has many ideas worth exploring.
  • SAMHSA's Tips for Social Distancing and Isolation describes feelings and thoughts people may have during and after social distancing, quarantine, and isolation; suggests ways to care for behavioral health during these experiences; and provides resources for more help.

How to Engage Virtually 

  • Aging in Place's "How to Become Tech Savvy Seniors in 10 Days" can help anyone get started with using digital tools.
  • This article in TechRadar walks you through using Google Hangouts.
  • The Department of Labor Office of Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT) published a "How to Pick an Accessible Virtual Meeting Platform" tip sheet. This resource provides best practices on the process of ensuring that employers' meeting platforms support full accessibility for people with disabilities.
  • Disability:IN has developed a resource page on digital accessibility and other best practices for remote work.
  • Rooted in Rights offers tips for making virtual meeting more accessible for people with disabilities.
  • "The Big Hack," a project of the British non-profit Scope, provides an overview of accessibility features found in various video conferencing apps.
  • The National Council on Aging (NCOA) has developed a detailed overview of remote video communication options titled, Tools for Reaching a Remote Audience. NCOA provides pros and cons for each tool, including Facebook Live, Google Hangouts, Zoom, and several others. Links to additional information are included in the document. This resource is a convenient first stop for people wanting to connect to each other remotely and also includes information about tools that can be used for meetings and presentations.
  • To help promote social connections among older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic, the engAGED Resource Center and the Eldercare Locator have developed resources and activities to help older adults stay engaged and connected to their communities.
    • Create Connections With Technology: From FaceTime to Zoom, older adults can use technology to overcome social isolation. In the following webpage, we’ve listed just a few of the ways older adults can use technology to create and maintain social connections.

    • Create Connections Without Technology: For older adults who do not have access to the internet and smart phones, creating social connections takes a more traditional approach and includes a variety of activities.

Resources for Organizations Trying to Reduce Social Isolation

ACL's Mobilizing and Empowering the Nation and Technology to Address Loneliness & Social Isolation (MENTAL) Health Innovation Challenge

ACL and HHS' Office for the Assistant Secretary for Health - in partnership with U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the Consumer Technology Association Foundation (CTA Foundation) - have launched a prize challenge to increase consumer awareness and use of technology tools that help older adults and people with disabilities stay socially engaged. We're seek solutions that assess socially-isolated individuals and match them with the technology, tools, and sociaFor States and the Aging and Disability Networksl engagement programs that best meet their needs. 

Resources for States and ACL's Network Partners

  • ADvancing States published this resource to assist states and others with creative and thoughtful approaches to social isolation and loneliness in older adults, and to also facilitate sharing and learning across states. It includes a collection of ideas and actions from across the country.
  • ACL's engAGED National Resoruce Center developed a six-part series of sample grab and go blog posts that organizations can use to promote the importance of older adults’ staying engaged. 
  • Examples from the states:
    • Project HELLO from the Rhode Island Office of Healthy Aging connects older adults who may be alone and in need of socialization with friendly volunteers.
    • Both New York and Alabama have received local and national media attention for their use of robotic pets to combat loneliness due to visitation restrictions at long-term care facilities as a result of COVID-19.


Social Isolation Virtual Summit September 24

Join ACL's  engAGED national resource center September 24 for an interactive discussion and dialogue with aging network leaders on social isolation and engagement among older adults.

Archived Webinar: Successfully Engaging Older Adults and Adults with Disabilities via Technology

In June, ACL and other national stakeholders highlighted programs, best practices, and tips for creating communities of learning and engagement via technology. Presenters addressed marketing/outreach, barriers to virtual participation, strategies for holding interactive and inclusive conversations, and more. (RecordingSlidesTranscript)


Last modified on 10/09/2020

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