By Jennifer V. Miller
Just a few blocks from where I live sits Aurora Pond, an independent retirement community that is nestled in a lovely, wooded section of land. When riding my bike, I’ve seen the residents milling about on the lawn, or waving to passersby from their apartment balconies. What a friendly group of people! When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I wondered if the elderly residents were feeling lonely during lockdown.
I have read that loneliness is especially tough on the elderly. According to research, extended periods of loneliness put people at higher risk for many mental and physical conditions, including depression, cognitive decline, heart disease and high blood pressure.
But living alone doesn’t mean one needs to be lonely. According to this National Institute of Aging article, one can live alone and still feel connected to the outer world. Researcher Stephanie Cacioppo, director of University of Chicago’s Brain Dynamics Laboratory, says that loneliness causes very real suffering but there are ways we can help. “We are accountable to help our lonely children, parents, neighbors, and even strangers in the same way we would treat ourselves. Treating loneliness is our collective responsibility,” Dr. Cacioppo says.
Well, I’ve never met Dr. Cacioppo, but it’s as if she whispered those words right into my ear about three weeks into our COVID-19 quarantine. One day, inspiration struck: what if I could connect the elderly residents in my neighborhood to the outside world by coordinating a letter-writing campaign? So, I called the Aurora Pond retirement community to pitch my idea. They were thrilled and said “yes!” immediately. I put a message out on Facebook and gathered names of families who wanted to participate. We set up a private Facebook page to communicate the project details.
The timing of the project was perfect: it was our local school system’s spring break; families were stuck in their homes and feeling sad about cancelled vacation plans. In all, 35 families contributed nearly 150 letters, notes and pieces of artwork to send to the residents of Aurora Pond. To stay safe, people dropped the materials off at my house and then I quarantined the items for several days before delivering them to Aurora Pond.
At Aurora Pond, two wonderful staff members named Ashley and Anna delivered our messages to residents. We are proud to report that every resident received at least one message. Via our private Facebook page, they posted videos and pictures of the residents with their notes and artwork. To see the smiles on their faces brought such joy to our hearts! Anna told me that some of the residents were so touched that they cried. And some residents wrote notes of thanks that I then delivered back to the families who contributed.
In all, over 250 people were touched by this project. Families—with children ranging in age from 3 – 19—were able to reach out and connect with the elderly. Individually, it took very little time to write up a note or draw a photo. Collectively, it helped an entire community of seniors feel a little less lonely during lockdown.
Who will you help feel a little less lonely today? Even if you aren’t able to leave your home, you can still reach out. Perhaps an idea from our list of how to care while “grounded” at home will provide a few ideas.
About the author: Jennifer V. Miller is a freelance writer and editor who manages content for the Wisdom of the Wounded team.