Social Distancing Versus Social Isolation

Even before news of the Coronavirus emerged in late 2019, researchers have long been studying the effects of isolation on older people .

Now, as the world responds with unprecedented speed to the threat of Covid-19, the urgency of helping everybody stay in touch is an urgent priority – in particular for vulnerable seniors and the newly-telecommuting, homeschooling, stressed sandwich generation, who coordinates their care (now from a distance).

Physical social distancing is a critical precaution to ‘flatten the curve.” And yet, we must also be aware of the potential for serious psychological and emotional consequences of physical isolation, and take proactive steps to prevent and mitigate that toll.

Everyone needs different amounts of social connection to avoid loneliness

We know social isolation and loneliness are two different things. Loneliness is a feeling of deprivation; we are social animals, and we need each other. At the same time, individual needs for social connection vary, just as our needs for sleep.

Had we all been asked to retreat to our homes for the safety of others in the 1990s or even in 2006, we would have been able to rise to the challenge, but with much greater consequences to our mental and emotional health. Even as The New York Times profiled the difficulties older people are facing in ‘I’m Really Isolated Now’: When Elders Have to Fight Coronavirus Alone , there are blessings to count: Covid-19 emerged at a time in human history when we have never been better equipped to handle the challenge of isolation through technology.

With cell phones, tablets, smart televisions, broadband internet, and free or affordable communication platforms, people have more ways to remain in touch today than at any point in our past.

Make a plan to prevent loneliness during social distancing and preventive isolation

The United States is still making its earliest efforts to establish policies, practices, and protocols to keep everyone as safe as possible during this period. As we continue to learn more about the best medical and scientific evidence, recommendations and situations may continue to change. Still, families and individuals can help proactively stave off emotional and psychological pressures that can result from too much alone time.

1. Make a plan for “the new normal.”

Who are the friends, neighbors and relatives you would normally “go out with” or “have over” under “normal circumstances?”

Reach out to them via text, email, or phone calls at regular intervals. See how they’re doing. Find out if they have a plan to stay in touch with people. Find out what technology everyone has in common, then organize virtual get-togethers.

Identify regular times and days to check in with each other and stick to them – either with a quick text, a call, or a video chat. Most importantly: Don’t fret if you haven’t showered, done your makeup, or combed your hair when a video call arrives. Your loved ones want to see your face and hear your voice, and connection is the best medicine.

Get creative. What “normal” social activities can you do online? Pictionary? Charades?

Make planning the next call the fun part of each get-together. Having something to look forward to is important in uncertain, stressful times, and the promise of a nightly or weekly face-to-face long-distance game of chess or checkers can become a lifeline for someone who’s been unable to see people in the “real world.”

2. Explore video chat options.

If you haven’t yet dipped your toe into video chat technology, now is the time to take a few deep breaths, set aside trepidation, and get started. What’s the worst thing that could happen?

Each video chat technology requires a slightly different setup, but are compatible with most smartphones, laptops, and tablets (with the exception of Facetime).

The most popular platforms have pages of help and troubleshooting. And there’s always technical support to assist Mom setting it up if she’s having a bit of trouble at the beginning.

Step-By-Step Directions

Google Hangouts:

The 900-pound gorilla of the tech world has been facilitating Gen Z’s group homework for many years; now with everyone at home together, the kids can help Mom, Dad, and Grandma get up to speed on the tool many schools use for chats in the classroom .


The largest teleconferencing app/platform on Earth just waived its free plan’s 40-minute time limit for schools as part of its response to Covid-19, and for the rest of us, plans are affordable. Up to 100 people can join one “room” for a virtual “meeting” that lasts as long as 24 hours in the most affordable ($14.99/month) plan, and the Zoom app works from desktops, phones, and tablets – both PC and Mac.

FaceTime (Apple iOS only):

If you and your circle are mostly Apple fans and iPhone/IPad users, you already have the technology to connect face-to-face with multiple people at your fingertips.

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54 thoughts on “Social Distancing Versus Social Isolation

  1. Ana
    March 25, 2020 at 8:01 pm

    Skype is great too for chatting, phone calls and cam.

  2. Jan Russell
    March 26, 2020 at 12:22 pm

    Thank you! I really need this now. Need to learn how to do pictionary & group stuff on line. Already do some online games.

  3. Jan Russell
    March 26, 2020 at 12:25 pm

    Left comment above.
    Thanks for post. Need to learn how to play games, etc. With friends other than games online.

  4. Anonymous
    March 26, 2020 at 5:47 pm

    Good information!

  5. Anonymous
    March 26, 2020 at 11:46 pm

    Meet in the neighbors driveway. Stay 6 feet away and drink wine!😍😍

    1. Anonymous
      April 16, 2020 at 12:52 pm

      Sunset every day !!

    2. Sue
      April 17, 2020 at 9:04 pm

      👍🏻 Like it. Long as 6+ feet apart

  6. Stephanie S Sawyer
    March 28, 2020 at 2:12 am

    What about those of us who don’t use smart phones nor have zoom? I am a new senior, am on disability, and am quite isolated. I wish I had a teacher to learn these tech things. It also takes financial backing.

    1. Pam Rose
      April 11, 2020 at 12:59 am

      Look into it: if you are a senior on social security or disability, the cable company will have a program that will give you high speed internet for $14 a month. You can also contact social services and get an Obama phone for free, and the government also pays for the mobile data– up to a point. The wifi (internet signals from your cable subscription) will make any data you use in the house free.
      In some cases you may not even have to do that. Some apartment buildings offer free wifi. So do some stores, restaurants and religious institutions. Any friend with a smart phone can be called an asked all sorts of basic questions. Other answers are on the internet.

    2. Anonymous
      April 12, 2020 at 11:53 am

      If you were able to read this and then comment, you must have Facebook. You could text to other people back and forth or go back to the old days and talk to people on the phone.

    3. Tisha Milheim
      April 14, 2020 at 12:12 am

      Do you have a smart phone?

    4. leila
      April 14, 2020 at 1:29 am

      someone on line will help you. I needed help to get a printer set up, frustrating but it got done.

    5. Jeanne Ostermann
      April 14, 2020 at 1:00 pm

      Use your phone to make phone calls! Call people who might need a little lift! When you focus on others–it lifts you!!

    6. Anonymous
      April 14, 2020 at 4:19 pm

      Like you I am not computer savvy I am 88 years old today and my resolution is I am going to learn this computer so I can keep in touch with the outside world

    7. Kay
      April 15, 2020 at 11:41 am

      Can you write friends a letter? Maybe you’ll get one back!

    8. Anonymous
      April 15, 2020 at 5:04 pm

      Hi, If you have a computer this may help. Zoom is free as an app to download . Then, go to YouTube and search for beginners videos on how to use Zoom. I just did this a week ago and with that help I was ready to go. If you try this and seems easy enough for you as family and friends to download the app too. If you have someone who is more comfortable with the technology they can initiate the call which makes it even easier.

    9. Warren Mass
      April 17, 2020 at 10:46 am

      I got my first smart phone from Consumer Cellular a year ago in January. Before that I had a “dumb” phone with them. The phone and plan were very affordable. The first time I used it I actually had to call tech support to ask them how to send a text! Now I’m always on it. My wife is in a nursing home and visiting was banned on March 13. The nursing home was terrible about helping families stay in touch with residents so I had my wife moved to another nursing home about ten days ago. I got Skype on my phone and they schedule Skype visits once a week. In between I talk to my wife on the phone. She always sounds cheerful. I think I benefit from the calls more than she does since I live alone and find the isolation extremely depressing.

  7. Anonymous
    March 28, 2020 at 1:41 pm

    Think how thankful we will be to be with our friends and family again.

  8. Poonam chawla
    March 28, 2020 at 3:05 pm

    War, physical and mental illnesses, hunger… these are the things that cause real suffering.
    If we consider social isolation as a situation rather than a grievous injury we can move forward very easily.
    In other words, look at it as a solvable problem.

    Yes, I agree. We are better equipped technically, than we ever were.
    Meditation and music, facetime and journaling are great pastimes for the old – and young.

    1. Anonymous
      April 11, 2020 at 5:51 pm

      Very healthy advice. 🙂

  9. Anonymous
    March 28, 2020 at 9:15 pm

    Thankyou for all this info. Old, but not gone.

  10. Anonymous
    March 28, 2020 at 11:04 pm

    You can live in the same place as others and still be isolated especially if they are continuly wearing the head phones and they’re contently on their phones their tables and Facebook

  11. Donna
    March 29, 2020 at 2:54 pm

    I just started using Messenger’s Video Chat. It works great for me!!!

  12. Janice Magoon
    March 29, 2020 at 3:25 pm

    I was raised an only child and as such I learned how to entertain myself at a very early age. I also learned to enjoy my own company. These traits have served me well throughout my life. It is really sad to think that without the aid of so much social media to rely on that we would fall apart as your article seems to suggest. Human beings are strong, adaptable and resourceful. You would probably be surprised to see how well they could handle things on their own if they really had to do it.

    1. Anonymous
      April 13, 2020 at 8:25 pm

      I agree. I was an only child and having to stay away from people don’t bother me

    2. Susan Seacrest
      April 14, 2020 at 11:13 pm

      I am an only child as well and am
      enjoying this time and rediscovering the joy of being with myself. Not rushing, instead reflecting.

    3. Anonymous
      April 15, 2020 at 1:38 am

      Although I am not an only child( 1 brother, 2 years younger), I could not be in more agreement with you. What’s up with watching tv or social media constantly? Those can become a crutch instead of providing structure & activity in our lives.

    4. Anonymous
      April 16, 2020 at 4:09 pm

      I totally agree. I grew up in the country where socialization occurred only on weekends with extended family and church family. No social drinking or partying, just good wholesome conversation and working together. I’m so glad I didnt grow up to be snow flake.

  13. Skip Curry
    March 29, 2020 at 3:33 pm

    Using this type of technology is definitely going to evolve into the “new normal.” The social distancing, social shut down and or quarantine is opening the door for new acceptance of Technology and universities, in the professional world and certainly among families and friends.

  14. Anonymous
    March 29, 2020 at 3:38 pm

    Yes, Facetime with family is like a visit with them personally. Also texting and phoning. I am grateful for these devices to stsy in touch. At 91 I am not venturing out. We are doing Zoom today with one family for first time. Want to do whole family if possible soon – 41 of us. Praying for wisdom for countries’ leaders and the whole world and that good will somehow come out of this horror.

  15. Joanne B
    March 31, 2020 at 2:44 am

    Having some great virtual visits with our daughters and grandchildren via FaceBook Messenger!

  16. Betsy L. Chambers
    April 1, 2020 at 11:38 pm

    I believe this is extremely dangerous time for all ages ! It’s one thing to stay home by choice & be mandated to do so. There will be repercussions.

  17. Linda
    April 3, 2020 at 12:33 pm

    It leaves me with a feeling of hopelessness. I wake with a stomach ache or headache almost every morning. I seem to wake earlier every morning. Sometimes I want to cut off all communication with everyone. I do not watch the news because it is too depressing.

    1. Anonymous
      April 12, 2020 at 12:51 pm

      Go right ahead. Maybe it will help you

    2. Bonnie
      April 15, 2020 at 1:50 am

      Being a very social person, I understand your discomfort with isolation. The need for person to person conversation and a physical hug is overwhelming. Knowing that everyone is experiencing this helps a little, but our own feelings are what we have to live with. Depression saps our energy and tears are ever on the surface ready to flow with the slightest kindness from another. Aloneness becomes agony and I wonder how long I can tolerate it.

    3. Loraine
      April 15, 2020 at 8:23 am

      I am sorry you are suffering. Can you spend some time outdoors taking a walk or even just sitting somewhere in the sunshine? These things lift my spirits – also taking an occasional drive.

  18. Debi
    April 4, 2020 at 12:46 am

    You can also Video Chat with FaceBook Messenger!! Which I just found out since this pandemic started!

    1. Sheryl
      April 13, 2020 at 4:26 pm

      How does that work

  19. M. K.
    April 5, 2020 at 8:07 pm

    Having some negative effects from all this ZOOM communication. Though I get lots of help,I am still old fashioned about ” manners”; e.g. interrupting someone accidentally, by pushing the ” mute” and ” unmute” button. My church uses it for coffee chat after the online service. This morning I waited 35 minutes to just try to voice a news update about a much loved member. When I was finally able to signal by waving,and was recognized, most participants had left the gathering. Not only frustrating,but makes one feel unacknowledged and not a valued part of group. I will probably avoid this for awhile.Rather unpleasant.

    1. Anonymous
      April 12, 2020 at 5:58 pm

      Try again so that you’ll become comfortable! Some of these types of meetings and contacts will be normal
      for sometime!

  20. Linda Eggerman
    April 5, 2020 at 10:00 pm

    The older people who are being the most isolated do not have the access to phones or computers or the knowledge to use them for social interaction anyway.

    1. Anonymous
      April 12, 2020 at 9:05 am

      We have a family Marco Polo. It’s great because it saves all the conversations, so you can always go in and catch up on what everyone has talked about!

    2. J. Facklam
      April 15, 2020 at 1:11 pm

      Don’t lump us “old” people all together. I will be 82 in 3 weeks. I have been on computer way back to commodore 64. I do just fine.

  21. Ina Lazarus
    April 11, 2020 at 11:28 am

    Dear app inventors Like google,zoom Skype facebook,my gratitude is beyond thank you,thank 82 and without these aps on my IPad I would be in the looney house.

  22. Doris Dodds
    April 12, 2020 at 2:57 pm

    Some old people are forgotten because no one cares to check on them to see if they are ok so they have to fend for themselves & go to the grocery store & risk their lives because they have no one.

  23. Carol
    April 13, 2020 at 1:35 pm

    At 5:30 , five gals meet on FaceTime for cocktails. Our only rule is no makeup.

  24. Karol Fentem
    April 13, 2020 at 1:51 pm

    Read online with kindle, Libby, or local library.
    Call or take a dessert treat to those who are alone.
    Learn to order food online with delivery service and then eat food that is healthy and enjoyable
    I am 82 yrs old and try to do all of the above.

  25. Kathleen Joan Siino
    April 14, 2020 at 1:56 pm

    It’s great if you have hobbies! I have done 6 oil paintings since
    this all started. I play the piano, Guitar, do lots of
    crossword puzzles, email, use Facebook with all my friends. I
    go for walks. Tend to my many plants. I read a lot. Even at
    night when I can’t sleep.
    I am elderly and I live alone. I do get depressed not seeing my friends and relatives and going out to lunches and clubs. But
    if you just keep busy the days go by much faster and if you
    have deep faith in God like I do, this will pass and we will
    appreciate life more!

  26. Dave Huegel
    April 14, 2020 at 6:01 pm

    I have been living an isolated life for a couple of years,and am ok most of the time. It does get pretty old being retired and alone… hopefully this virus issue gets resolved,and we can at least be free to travel again.

  27. Chris
    April 15, 2020 at 3:10 pm

    I am 71 with multiple health issues, so I have been home alone..because I get insulin over the counter at Walmart and not a prescription, I had to break my isolation and go.I was extremely nervous that I would somehow be exposed to the virus.I wore a hoody and mask but noone else did..even after it opens up everywhere will I ever be safe??

  28. Judy
    April 15, 2020 at 3:50 pm

    Is it safe to kiss your husband of 30 years during isolation

  29. Karen Graham
    April 16, 2020 at 9:44 pm

    My 11yo grandaughter and I have had breakfast “together“, played Hangman, shared stories, and I have helped her with some homework, all through FaceTime. She once spent a 4 hour Saturday morning taking me on a virtual tour of her room, organizing her closet and every nook& cranny, box & bin! We had wonderful time… until my daughter came to check if she had fallen asleep!

  30. Julia Collins
    April 17, 2020 at 12:53 am

    Thanks for your article on Social Distancing vs. Isolation. Very helpful!❣!

  31. Sarah
    April 17, 2020 at 11:01 am

    I wish I could get an emotional connection to video conferencing. But all I can see it as is meaningless TV. Not real connection to another. My mind wanders away from video for this reason, and I feel lonelier and more despairing after one of these “gatherings” than if they had never happened. I show up so as not to hurt my friends’ feelings, but it’s not any kind of connection. TV is not “real.” Glad it works for the rest of you.

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