Even before the coronavirus pandemic, loneliness, especially among older adults, was already considered its own epidemic.
When you hear and see Nelson Dunlap play the piano. You may not initially notice just how limited he is.
"I started out with one cane then two canes. I could see I was getting worse and worse, but I do not believe in sitting home feeling sorry for yourself," said Dunlap.
Dunlap's wheelchair bound more than 30 years from post-polio syndrome.
"At the age of 3, I had polio," said Dunlap.
But he finds a way to stay connected, as challenging as it is.
"It keeps your mind clear. It keeps your heart pure and what I mean by that is that it gives you something to look forward to," said Dunlap.
The U.S. government says the science shows that 43 percent of seniors feel lonely, and there's a 45 percent increased risk of mortality from feeling lonely. Plus, the real shocker? Loneliness is more dangerous than obesity and has the same effect on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Social isolation has a lot of medical comorbidities that come along with it.
Dr. Tracey Doering specializes in geriatrics.
"Depression and anxiety are big ones and then just over time your general disease can accelerate," said Doering.
Doering recommends getting involved with civic and senior groups, which is exactly how Dunlap stays connected.
He belongs to "Fifty Forward," which connects him with friends.
"I'm grateful, when people (say), 'Oh, I love that. Can you play this, or can you play this?' Whatever state that you're in, you need to make the best of it," said Dunlap.
It’s not easy to stay connected in a pandemic. But there are drive-by beep and greets, long phone talks, and Zoom chats.
Bobby Smotherman recently retired.
"The only thing I have to look forward to is our Zoom meetings," said Smotherman.
But as soon as the pandemic passes, he looks forward to seeing his friends again, volunteering, and tutoring children in reading.
"I believe the world is there for me to give back. I feel refreshed, feel young," Smotherman.