Suzanne Salamon, MD (Geriatric Medicine, BIDMC) discusses how COVID-19 has removed many social supports for seniors and the importance of continuing regular connections as often as possible.

WCVB – June 11, 2020

Brookline students use phone calls to ease loneliness

Before COVID-19, about 20% of older Americans reported feeling lonely. That number has likely increased since social distancing went into effect, but people are getting creative to connect.

“For me, it was a really good opportunity to get to know someone,” said Elena Su. Su and Gavriela Meyers are on a mission.

“I wanted to make them feel like they had someone to talk to. That they could have a friend that really cared about them,” Meyers said.

The Brookline teens run a new program called Virtual Companionship, matching high school student volunteers with local senior citizens isolated because of COVID-19.

Once matched, the students hit the phone lines for regular calls and connection. They now have 60 students signed up to participate and it could not come at a more important time.

“It’s been a very, very lonely experience,” said Dr. Suzanne Salamon, associate chief of clinical programs in geriatric medicine at Beth Israel Deaconness Medical Center.

She said the stay-at-home advisory removed many social supports for seniors.

“People at home have lost many of the people we take for granted. Cleaning people who come in two or three times a month. Home health aides who come in to help with showers,” Salamon said.

That isolation could have health consequences as people are not able to eat or exercise as they normally would, but Salamon said connection can go a long way for both mental and physical health.

“If you pick up the phone and call every single day that makes a difference. Write a little card or something, and put it in the mail because for many people having a letter they can read over and over again rather than a phone call or in addition to a phone call is very helpful,” Salamon said.

The difference it can make is something Su and Meyers have now experienced first-hand.

“I felt like over the course of maybe a half an hour I really had the opportunity to make a new friend,” Su said.

“You’re exposed to this whole new generation of people with a whole new perspective and I think it’s really cool,” Meyers said.

For more information, email or call (617) 651-1889. You don’t have to live in Brookline to participate and right now, there is a waitlist of student volunteers ready to be paired with senior citizens.