Older adults and their families should be aware of the impact of social distancing and isolation, especially during the holidays.
Signs of stress include being fearful and worrying about your health and the health of your loved ones. Stress can lead to changes in appetite or sleeping and feelings of hopelessness. Older adults may also experience worsening of chronic health problems and mental health conditions.
The COVID-19 pandemic has left countless seniors socially isolated while navigating a virus that has devastated nursing homes, long-term care homes and assisted living facilities across the country. Even before the pandemic, national studies indicated one-quarter of older adults were socially isolated. Having fewer social connections takes a toll on physical and mental health and can lead some to turn to drugs or alcohol to cope.
Along with loneliness there is the added stress of COVID-19, which affects an inordinate number of the elderly. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the risk for severe illness from COVID-19 increases with age, especially with underlying health conditions. Approximately eight out of ten COVID-19 deaths reported in the U.S. have been adults 65 years old and older.
Social interactions are essential and help older adults with cognitive functioning. But older adults are more likely to experience social isolation because they live alone or have limited financial resources.
However, there are things seniors can do to manage these feelings and safely navigate the pandemic. Little things like planning the day and keeping up daily routines, such as getting out of bed, getting dressed, and engaging in small activities. Technology has played a significant role in helping seniors stay connected to others and can play a part in their daily routines. Moreover, the individual’s mindset plays a role in staying healthy physically and mentally, per ECDOL.
Older adults should also stay physically active if able and find exercise that can be done at home or as part of a group. Also, do not be afraid to leave home, but do so wisely -- the CDC outlines preventative actions that emphasize what older adults can do to stay safe when leaving home. Finally, accept help from others, as many organizations are working hard to keep seniors socially connected.
Family members should also pay attention to any increased tobacco, alcohol and drug use. Social isolation can lead to anger, feelings of uncertainty and frustration. Managing the stress caused by social isolation begins with staying connected to family and friends, limiting news consumption, finding activities that bring joy, and keeping your mind active. It is the little activities that count because the vulnerable are made more vulnerable during this pandemic.
Marcel Gemme has worked in the health care industry for more than 20 years, first as a substance abuse counselor and now as a certified personal caregiver. He helps people find long-term senior care through his web site, ecdol.org