You can make a world of difference to seniors

April 6, 2021

We’ve learned over the last year that the COVID-19 pandemic affects people in many different ways, with some at greater risk due to a variety of social, economic and medical factors.

Those 65 and older, who make up about 25 percent of Sussex County’s population, are especially vulnerable. Age and the likelihood of multiple underlying medical conditions combine to put our seniors at particular risk.

Many elderly face the additional challenge of social isolation as family visits, get-togethers with friends and neighbors, church events and similar gatherings have been curtailed. The situation is even more dire for those without the skills, tools or broadband connectivity needed to stay in touch through email, social media or virtual meetings.

According to an article published in The Journal of Gerontology in 2018, researchers at the Florida State University College of Medicine found that loneliness is associated with a 40 percent increase in a person’s risk of dementia.

And earlier this month, a study led by Case Western Reserve University concluded that individuals with dementia had twice the risk of contracting COVID-19. Moreover, among those with dementia, Blacks had close to three times the risk of becoming infected.

In short, interaction with others is an effective antidote to isolation - and may actually help to counteract the scourge of dementia and heightened risks of contracting COVID-19.

Here in the Cape Region, we’re fortunate to have nonprofit organizations such as Village Volunteers that are dedicated to helping seniors maintain their independence. Others, such as the University of Delaware’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, provide a way for seniors to stay engaged and connected with others, even amid the pandemic.

But as we approach the start of a second year of restricted activities, the need to extend a helping hand to vulnerable seniors is greater than ever.

As partners in the Cape Community Coordination for COVID-19 (CCC4COVID) coalition - a group of more than 80 social services, faith-based, healthcare, educational, nonprofits, community, businesses and governmental organizations - we’ve learned over the past year that great things can happen when we focus our energy and resources on urgent needs. 

Countering the negative effects of senior isolation is among the coalition’s current priorities, not only because it’s the right thing to do but also because keeping the elderly healthy in mind, body and spirit can help to prevent illness and reduce healthcare costs.

A 2015 study by researchers from Brigham Young University found that social isolation can be twice as harmful to physical and mental health as obesity. The same study showed that lack of social connection heightens health risks as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or having alcohol use disorder.

What can you do to help?

Send a handwritten note to an elderly neighbor. Mail it or drop it off at their door.

Call a senior you know to check in and engage in casual conversation. Ask if there’s anything they need. If there is, and it’s something you can’t provide, contact Village Volunteers or another CCC4COVID partner for assistance. (You can find a list of partner organizations at 

Offer to help make an appointment for someone having difficulty scheduling a vaccination because he or she lacks computer access. 

Weather permitting, arrange to meet a senior outside her or his home. Mask up, maintain social distance and chat while you’re enjoying the fresh air.

Finally, repeat one or more of these actions every week or two.

It will make a world of difference to the seniors you contact. And it will make you feel pretty good, too.

Danielle Swallow is a coastal hazards specialist at Delaware Sea Grant ( Jackie Sullivan is executive director of Village Volunteers. Both are members of the CCC4COVID coalition.
  • Cape Gazette commentaries are written by readers whose occupations, education, community positions or demonstrated focus in particular areas offer an opportunity to expand our readership's understanding or awareness of issues of interest.

Subscribe to the Daily Newsletter