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Five tips to overcome social isolation during COVID-19

In honor of National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, Anthology Senior Living is offering five safe social engagement tips to support brain health and help combat feelings of isolation during COVID-19 social distancing. 

The five tips are in response to a study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) which found that nearly one-fourth of adults aged 65 and older are considered socially isolated. Social isolation can have a negative impact on wellbeing. In addition to feelings of loneliness and depression, isolation is correlated with cognitive decline and can have harmful effects on those with dementia. 

Anthology Senior Living is dedicated to fostering the warmth of community. With 28 communities in 11 states, the Anthology Senior Living daily community calendars are filled with socially engaging activities to do with friends, all while practicing safe social-distancing.

“Social engagement brings with it a host of potential benefits including better physical and mental health,” says Kayla Meek, Vice President of Resident Experience at Anthology Senior Living. 

The imaginative and inspiring suite of daily offerings at Anthology Senior Living meet or exceed the latest safety guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “We encourage opportunities for connection while responding to changing circumstances with protocols, PPE, tests, and timely communications,” says Meek. 

An indoor farmer’s market is one of many successful events Anthology Senior Living communities recently implemented. “Our residents enjoyed shopping at their local farmer’s market, but due to COVID-19 they no longer felt safe in crowds,” says Meek, “so we brought the farmer’s market to them!” Organic fruit, vegetables and local honey were brought into Anthology Senior Living communities and artfully arranged in wicker baskets. Residents shopped for fresh produce while wearing masks and maintaining safe, social distance. 

The clinical and resident experience teams at Anthology Senior Living are constantly reviewing the latest data, including a growing body of research that points to an association between cognitive- and social-engagement and brain health. For instance, a study published in October 2020 in the The Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences finds that regular social engagement -- including not living alone, playing board games, visiting, volunteering, and going to movies, lectures, and worship services -- may be linked to healthier brain microstructure in older adults.

Another study published in July 2019 in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, found that stimulating activities like computer use, crafting, and playing cards and other games are linked to a lower risk or delay of mild age-related memory loss.

Brain-stimulating activities are woven into the daily community calendars at Anthology Senior Living. In Texas locations, for example, Anthology Senior Living offers weekly small-group Spanish classes. Recently, participants in the class practiced conjugating the verb “hablar” and learned how to answer commonly asked questions in Spanish. Classes take place during the week or after weekend brunch, and teachers and students wear masks while practicing safe social-distancing.

Other recent engagement activities across Anthology Senior Living communities include artisan wreath-making, watercolor painting studies, cooking demonstrations, outdoor concerts, gardening projects, fitness classes, bocce ball, and therapy animal visits.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the way many seniors are able to interact with one another and their families, Anthology Senior Living is continually evolving its standards, continually pursuing better methods, experiences, and service to improve quality of life.

“At Anthology Senior Living, we create safe and instantaneous moments of joy with purposefulness and happiness,” says Meek.  “Our dynamic social calendar engages the ‘whole person’—mind, body and spirit—and empowers residents to safely connect with loved ones, build new friendships and explore new passions.”

For seniors living on their own, Anthology Senior Living is offering these five tips to support safe social and brain engagement during social distancing due to COVID-19.

Move Your Body
Research shows that regular physical exercise is one way to improve cognitive function. According to the journal Alzheimer’s Resarch and Therapy, exercising more than once per week is associated with a lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease in persons with mild cognitive impairment. Consider a safe, socially-engaged exercise class such as an online Tai Chi course for older adults and make sure to consult your doctor before engaging in any physical activity.

Connect Over Music
Choose a piece of music you enjoy and arrange a phone or video call to play or sing it for a friend. Studies have shown that people with Alzheimer’s Disease and other types of dementia were able to recall song lyrics more easily than other words. The sensory experience of music is tied in with our memories. For inspiration, we recommend this story about a 92-year-old with dementia who recalls Beethoven’s “Moonlight” sonata.

Sharpen Your Mind
Listen to engaging lectures online and share your reactions with a friend. We recommend this talk by Dr. Kimberly Mueller, an Alzheimer's researcher at the University of Wisconsin. Her 2018 presentation, titled The Roles of Cognitive and Social Engagement in Healthy Brain Aging, offers a fascinating summary of some of the findings on this important topic. Challenging yourself mentally may help protect the brain from changes that can cause dementia. At Anthology Senior Living, we offer daily and weekly classes including our Spanish-language workshops. If you’re interested in boosting your language skills on your own, consider selecting a few basic items in your home and noting their counterpart in the language you choose. For example, the word “toaster” is “grille-pain” in French and “tostadora” in Spanish. Deepen the social engagement by practicing your foreign-language skills over the phone with a friend.

Share Your Wares 
Choose a craft project and discuss it with someone you know – you may even consider gifting your creation to a loved one. Experts say crafting can help ease stress and may even help those who experience anxiety, depression or chronic pain. By sharing your project with a friend or loved one, you have the added benefit of social engagement.

Use Tech for Good
Look for digital engagement opportunities that complement rather than replace personal communication. For example, consider scheduling a video chat with a friend when in-person meetings are not possible. Utilize Live Stream to watch animals, music, spiritual services, exercise routines, and more. According to a Pew Research Center analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data, 73% of those ages 65 and older are internet users. This study from Michigan State University showed that technology can enhance and enrich the lives of older adults when it is used to help cultivate successful relationships. Live streams and video calls offer simple, user-friendly opportunities to explore the benefits of technology.