Schaalman Senior Voices Program: New ways of connecting for older adults this holiday season

As the holidays approach and cases of COVID-19 spike across the nation, people are feeling a collective sense of fatigue, uncertainty, and, for many, profound loneliness.

Although the holidays can be an emotionally charged time for many people, this year is amplified.

Increasingly, families and friends have decided not to come together in order to slow the spread of the virus. Sadly, our loved ones 65 and older are disproportionally impacted by both the virus and social isolation.

Older adults are more vulnerable to experiencing social isolation and loneliness, which can directly impact their physical and mental health. Social isolation refers to being physically and emotionally removed from relationships and contact with family, friends and community. Social isolation is an objective reality whereas loneliness is a subjective experience.

People who experience social isolation are at increased risk of feeling lonely, which in turn impacts their health and well-being. People who are socially isolated with persistent feelings of loneliness are at higher risk than their peers for health-related conditions including depression, anxiety, heart disease, high blood pressure and other conditions linked to stress.

In fact, loneliness has been found to be as dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes per day.

Despite the necessity of physical distancing and limiting gatherings, this means fewer opportunities to engage in critical social interactions with friends and families. For many older adults, these gatherings are more than just a meal - they are essential connections to tradition and ritual. All across the country, people are heartbroken that they can't be with their loved ones, and many are desperate for connection after all of these months of isolation. This isolation impacts older adults who live independently as well as those in group living environments including independent, assisted and long-term care living arrangements. Many adults who choose to live in a group environment do so as a means of social connection, but now they too are often quarantined in their individual apartments or units.

At the Center for Excellence in Aging at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, we have programs specifically designed to combat social isolation and loneliness experienced by our older community members. We also offer clinical services to older adults who are in need of professional help with their distress.

Our mission is to improve and transform the health and well-being of the older adults, families and communities through patient care, education, research, policy and community partnerships. We are dedicated to developing an Age-Friendly Health System and wider community to ensure that older adults have health care that is aligned to what matters to them and that they receive the support they need to live healthy lives for as long as possible.

This holiday season, we are encouraging older adults and their loved ones to participate in the Schaalman Senior Voices program, which celebrates the legacy of interfaith leader Rabbi Herman E. Schaalman who was devoted to crossing boundaries and bringing people together.

This collection of inspiring films, educational opportunities and programs aims to strengthen the well-being of older adults and their communities. We are offering older adults and their loved ones the opportunity to share their own stories about what matters most in a 60-90 second video. While we may not be able to sit together and give thanks physically, this is a forum to tell each other what matters most during these challenging times.

Learn more at

For information, call the Center for Excellence in Aging at (312) 942-7070 or

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.