As families make plans for the holiday season during the pandemic, they need to be aware of two dangers. One is the risk of infection. The other is the risk of isolation.

University of South Carolina psychology professor Sam McQuillin says social isolation comes with its own set of health risks, and some of the people who are most at risk for COVID-19 infection and complications are also those who are most at risk for isolation's negative impacts on mental health. According to the AARP, "Isolation and loneliness are associated with a 50 percent increased risk of developing dementia, a 32 percent increased risk of stroke, and a nearly fourfold increased risk of death among heart failure patients."

McQuillin says that families need to balance the risks and find ways to protect people from possible viral spread while still making social connections with loved ones. When gathering together is not advisable, he suggests setting a regular schedule for Zoom or Facetime calls and finding creative ways to make those interactions more engaging.

"For example, playing a game of Zoom charades could be a great way to laugh together," he says. "A little bit of planning and structure goes a long way."

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