Encouraging social engagement during isolation

While those living with brain injury experience increased isolation compared to those in the general public, the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic has amplified physical and social isolation. As healthcare treatment and daily operations in communities shifts towards online platforms, patients/clients are spending more time at home. Programs and services that normally would have been a social and recreational outlet have been moved online or deteriorated completely. Patients/clients are missing the person-to-person connections and as a result are experiencing increasing feelings of anxiety and loneliness.

As a service provider, there are ways you can encourage your patients/clients to stay connected with family, friends, and other social groups while protecting their health and the health of others in isolation.

Social media
Social media is one of the most popular ways to stay connected. There are many different platforms that let people follow friends and family, celebrities, brain injury associations, businesses/organizations, and create a newsfeed that keeps them entertained and engaged.

Visual stress is an issue for some people with brain injury, so ensure they are participating in screen time, without aggravating symptoms.  For more information, watch our webinar on visual stress.

Your patient/client may need assistance in setting up their social media, as well as finding who to follow. You can help them put together a list of family and friends and other people of interest.  Encourage them to follow their local brain injury association, as many have moved services online.

While social media is a helpful resource, it can also be overwhelming sometimes. Lots of people are posting about current events and news which can be distressing and mood-altering. It’s helpful to take breaks from that kind of content. Social media can also have an impact on mental health, as people mostly post their positive moments, rather than their lows.  For someone who is feeling anxious or self-conscious, this can be hard to digest.  It is important for patients/clients to know that everyone has bad moments, they just don’t post them on social media. Everything needs to be “taken with a grain of salt”.

Phone calls
Phone calls are a great way to feel closely connected, no matter how much distance separates them from their friends and family. Make sure they are aware of their phone plan and monthly plan limit. If you have interaction or access with family and friends, encourage them to set up a schedule for calls. This can help patients/clients feel less isolated and more supported by their loved ones.
Most phone plans come with a texting plan. Texts are a great way to do quick check-ins with friends and family. They can also send photos, videos, and other attachments. Make sure they are aware of their phone plan and monthly plan limit.

Texting is handy for those with communication challenges. Dexterity can be an issue for some patients/clients, so show them how to use the voice to text feature on their phone.

Video chats
Video chats have now become the norm. They provide virtual face-to-face contact combined with the immediacy of phone calls. The face-to-face contact can have a huge benefit for those who feel alone. Even if they don’t want to have their camera on, encourage the patient/client’s family and friends to keep theirs on.
Here are some free video chat apps you help them set up and use:

Please note: Most of these video chat platforms require an email address. They will also need a stable internet connection to make or receive calls.

Online message apps
If your patients/clients have friends and family spread out over the country or world, you may want to suggest they try an online messaging app. These have free plans and can fill in when clients/patients have limited data plans for texting/phone calls. Remind the person that the people they want to chat with must also be on the chosen messaging platform.

Options include:

Emails allow for more immediate communication with the same appeal as letter-writing. It can also be an easy way to share documents if needed. Emails have also become essential for people to be able to create social media profiles, shop online, or access resources.

If they don’t have an email address, they can create one for free on the following platforms:

For patients/clients that experience cognitive fatigue from digital communication, writing letters is a great way to stay in touch with people. Plus, who doesn’t love to receive a letter? Whether it’s typed or handwritten, having something to open from a friend or family member makes people feel connected. Encourage family and friends to also send letters to your patient/client.
Digital games
Communication can also be fun and games – literally Thanks to the Internet, it’s possible to play group games without having to be in the same room. To save data, encourage patients/clients to play while connected to Wi-Fi.

The following sites and apps allow people to engage virtually to play all kinds of fun games.

  • Pogo – sign up and play tons of classic board games for free
  • If you like more complex role-playing games, try Roll20. Please note: making the account is free, but some features cost money
  • House Party – this is a video chat app you can get on your phone, allowing you to play games on the go with your friends