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Depressed and isolated for some this Thanksgiving

As a youngster, one of my favorite holiday traditions was Christmas caroling at the senior apartment buildings in my hometown.
It always made me feel good when I saw the twinkle in the eyes of senior citizens, including my grandfather, as they listened to members of our 4-H club sing holiday carols. Of course, at the time I really didn't think much of it, but as years go on I realize how important it must have been to those seniors to have someone paying attention to them and spreading some holiday cheer.
Fast-forward about 40 years to 2020.
I can’t help but think how lonely things have become for seniors, especially this year with the lockdowns at nursing homes and other assisted living facilities. They aren’t able to enjoy Christmas carolers or other community members sharing a visit or craft activity with them.
Someone shared with me last week how his 84-year-old mother hasn’t been able to have any visitors at her assisted living facility in Owatonna since March. Facing an unknown period of loneliness and isolation, the woman’s wish at this time is that she simply dies, he said. To hear someone feel that way simply pulls at the heartstrings. How awful to feel that way!
It makes me wonder how many other people are out there feeling no hope or the willingness to live any longer.
An emerging body of research has linked social isolation and loneliness to a range of serious health problems, including dementia, heart disease and strokes. In some cases, social isolation can hasten death. Since June, social isolation or “isolation due to COVID-19 conditions” has been a factor in the deaths of at least 12 Minnesota seniors, according to research conducted by the Star Tribune, who reviewed death certificate records.
Many families are going to be apart for the first time ever this Thanksgiving thanks to a nasty virus raging in our midst. Many seniors are bracing for a long and lonely holiday season after determining that the risks of the deadly virus outweigh the benefits of connection. My heart aches for the families who have loved ones in long-term care facilities and can’t get to them.
It’s encouraging to learn that there are some local groups taking notice of the plight that faces our seniors. Gail Buckingham of the Exchange Club of Owatonna says her group is sending out cards to those in assisted living homes between Thanksgiving and the end of the year. The goal, she says, is to simply “make sure they know they are special.”
I hope other people and organizations will take the Exchange Club’s lead and do something to help seniors who are isolated from the world and likely depressed. We may not be able to do things in person, but we can come up with other creative ways to reach them.
This is definitely going to be an unusual Thanksgiving and upcoming Christmas holiday season. For many, it simply isn’t going to be the same without Mom or Dad’s loving touch.
While it’s easy this Thanksgiving to get caught up in thinking about what we have all lost this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, let’s not lose sight of what we do have. For most of us, we still have family members to lean on in hard times. This past year has shown how we can all come together in ways we never knew we could. Cherish the time you do have with them, even if you are forced to do so in unconventional ways like Zoom and other social media platforms.
We are all learning an important lesson: It doesn’t matter how old you are—we’re all social beings.
I hope you can find a way of going in hot pursuit of connecting in some way with a senior citizen this holiday season.

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