The pandemic has caused a lot of people to confront something that they may not have had to deal with before: Loneliness.
Some are even calling the impact of social isolation on people a "loneliness epidemic." Experts say it affects our entire population, but in particular - our seniors.
Sarah Joakim and her daughter visit her 91-year-old father at a long term care facility in Maine. They communicate with him through the glass. They celebrated his birthday this way.
"He is 91 and you don't know... you just don't know what tomorrow will bring," said Joakim tearfully.
Sadly, families across the country, and right here in San Diego, know the pain her family is going through because they're going through it too.
"You think of these families trying to see loved ones through glass or seeing them from a distance, it's heartbreaking," said Joe Gavin of the San Diego Seniors Community Foundation.
The organization works to help seniors avoid isolation. Gavin said now more than ever, seniors need support.
"The holiday season can be difficult for seniors as it is, but even more so now during these extraordinary times," he said.
A new report from the AARP Foundation finds that social isolation among seniors has reached epidemic levels during COVID-19.
A study from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine shows that nearly one-fourth of adults aged 65 and older are socially isolated. These older adults may have up to a 29% increased risk of heart disease and up to a 32% increased risk of stroke.
"The reality is before the pandemic hit one in five Americans was lonely. Now that we have social distancing, quarantine and lockdowns and all these things, it’s up to one in three," said Andrew Renda.
Renda is the Associate Vice President of Population Health at Humana. The company launched the "Far From Alone" campaign to educate the public on the toll loneliness can take on your health and to reduce the stigma of talking about it.
He said seniors often face more challenges.
"They may have retired from the workforce, they may have had a spouse pass away, they may have had health issues that restrict their physical mobility, they can have issues around hearing or vision," said Renda.
Gavin worries about the emotional toll.
"The concerns of people in the aging network are 'What are the long term effects?'" he said.
His organization is working on using technology to bring seniors and their families together.
Meanwhile, for Joakim and her dad, they're trying to stay as connected as they can. Her family understands they must remain apart during the holidays for her dad's safety. She just hopes it doesn't take too great of a toll on his mental well being.
Experts say if Zoom calls or Facetime isn't an option for you to stay connected with an older friend or relative, call them or even write a letter.
For resources to help seniors through this difficult time, click here.
As we close out 2020 and enter into the holiday season, many people are isolated from family and friends because of COVID-19. We will explore the impact of isolation on mental health in our series Going It Alone.
We’d also like to hear from you if you're Going It Alone this holiday season.
If you want to share your story or have us address a specific topic, please send an email to email@example.com and add Going It Alone in the subject line.