Experts say a simple phone call to an older loved one can be the difference between life or death

Experts say just calling your older loved one can be a difference between life or death

ATLANTA — There are a million reasons why this pandemic is hard, and one is how lonely it is.

You may have an older parent or grandparent who may be staying away from grandkids or their church family to try and stay safe.

Channel 2 Anchor Jorge Estevez shares why it’s so important to keep them connected to us.

Content Continues Below

It could even make the difference between life and death.

At the Frank Bailey Senior Center in Riverdale, locals come through the door, get checked for COVID-19 then hop in line for a hot lunch.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Coronavirus Pandemic in Georgia]

Army veteran Clifford Jones said the food’s great but the people, and the swimming pool, are what have him coming back.

“We carry on around here something fierce,” Jones said.

Jones has been coming to the senior center for more than 10 years. During the pandemic, he said the crowds are slim, and there are less activities.

“Well you don’t socialize like you used to,” Jones said.

Jones told Esteves he lost a good friend to COVID-19.

“My fishing buddy. My best buddy and his name was Hiram Johnson. and I really miss him,” Jones said.

When the pandemic hit, staff at the center scrambled to call the seniors and make sure they were okay.

“You know they miss coming in the center, and we can understand that, but they are still gathering outside the building,” said Frank Bailey Senior Center worker Elaine Jackson.

RELATED STORIES:

Jackson said for many, that’s their lifeline.

But not every senior can come to a center and stand in line for food with his or her friends or walk over and take a perfectly socially distanced dance class to pass the time.

“Whatever it is that is making them feel isolated, if we can intervene and intervene early, we can keep our loved ones, as healthy as possible for as long as possible,” said Georgia Division of Aging Services Director Abby Cox.

Cox said they’re working to get in touch with seniors online, over the phone, even on the radio to keep them from feeling lonely. And she urges everyone to do the same with the seniors in their life.

“We should worry about it because a social isolation might just be the tip of the iceberg to a downward trajectory,” Cox said.

That spiral could include dangerous depression.

“Before COVID-19 social isolation, it has been a problem in older adult community,” said Georgia State University Dr. Laura Shannonhouse.

Before the pandemic, Dr. Shannonhouse started following 500 metro Atlanta seniors to gauge their risk of depression and suicide.

She says 77 of them met the clinical risk assessment for suicide, and 12 reported it was likely they’d end their own life in the future.

She fears the pandemic will make it worse.

“When SARS happened, the suicide rate went up because of this perceived burdensomeness because older adults felt like their family would be more burdened if they were to catch SARS if they were to need treatment for SARS,” Shannonhouse said.

Shannonhouse said children and grandchildren may not see the signs right away that our loved one is in a dangerous

“It is hard to be with someone we love in some distress, or pain or suffering that they’re experiencing,” Shannonhouse said.

But even from a distance, we can help our loved ones dealing with isolation or depression by calling, reminiscing and just listening.

“Listening is actually really hard work,” Shannonhouse said. “Really focusing that attention on the other person and listening well to them and not trying to fix it. But trying to actually sit with them in it.”

At the senior center, Jones is stoic about the pandemic. He said he’ll find ways to stay busy.

“It’s not that bad. It’s not that bad. You learn, you have to learn to deal with it,” Jones said.