The Importance of Staying “Social” When Social Distancing

There has never been a time when people needed to come together more than they do today. Unfortunately, social interaction, as we once understood it, is not possible for public health and safety reasons. In the senior living industry, this is cause for some concern. Being in this industry has allowed us firsthand insight into what socializing means for the seniors we support every day, and that its importance cannot be understated.

The Words We Use Matter

In the early 2000s, there were several studies done by social psychologists on behavioral priming. In its simplest terms, priming is exposing a person or group to a specific stimulus over and over in order to influence a response to that stimulus.

Over the last couple of months, we have been primed daily in conversations with friends, family, and teammates, as well as in statements by government leaders and media outlets, to accept the term “new normal.” Yet the “new normal” is not a concrete idea, but rather a constantly shifting series of individual perceptions.

We need to be careful about the way we allow the phrase to be defined because words create worlds. The words we use, especially in times of high emotion, will shape our individual views and the views of those around us.

Think back to what you used to view as “normal,” and remember how it felt…

From watching your child being dog-piled at home plate for hitting the game-winning hit, to sitting shoulder to shoulder at the pub while wiping away tears after three hours of belly laughs. Even the warm feeling you got when you rounded a corner and ran into your best friend unexpectedly.

We can’t define the new normal without those feelings to help us understand what we want it to be. With that, we can create a clear, safe path forward.

A Focus on Distant Socializing

Think about the world that has been created around the phrase “social distancing.” It’s one that is tinged with hesitation, anxiety, and even fear. While those emotions are certainly linked to the immediate threat to health in a pandemic, there is a deeper connection that we need to recognize.

Recent studies have shown a correlation between social isolation and mortality; limited social contact is directly correlated with cancer, heart disease, and other ailments. So, a lack of human contact and interaction due to social isolation during quarantine is a very real issue facing seniors who need our support.

As we all move forward, having experienced our own quarantines and social distancing, it’s our hope that everyone will remember this feeling—this longing for community—and carry it forward to help eliminate isolation and loneliness for our older adults whenever and wherever possible.

We need to encourage older adults to continue to be part of a community, to not withdraw, and to be around people who celebrate their value.

As we’ve discussed social distancing in senior living and the life that social distancing creates within the walls of senior living communities, we’ve kept this thought in the front of our minds:

“Physical distancing is what we all need to stay safe, but as humans, we need community. If we stop socializing, we can shrivel up and die from loneliness.”

Because of that concept, we are promoting what we call “distant socializing” while being mindful of physical distancing. And we’re creating intentional activities for seniors during social distancing because we don’t need to be wary or hesitant or scared of socializing. We need community — and that can be felt six feet apart.

Moving Forward with Community

As conversations and considerations about defining what the new normal will look like for all of us continue, it’s important to remember the things that won’t change. It’s human to want to be part of something, to celebrate and laugh together, and sometimes even to cry together. Despite our world’s history of pandemics, everyone has found a way to continue to be a part of a community and stay connected.

COVID-19 won’t change that… Together, we will find a way.