Adults age 65 and older are at a higher risk of contracting severe illnesses, including coronavirus (COVID-19). That’s why it’s especially important for older adults to take preventative health measures during a pandemic. At this time, practicing social distancing—the act of reducing time spent in society and around others—can help seniors stay safe and healthy.
Under normal circumstances, older adults may experience loneliness and depression. But with the cancellation of many community events and disruption of everyday activities due to COVID-19, the senior population can feel even more isolated.
“Typically, when we reach retirement, we tend to form daily and weekly routines that become very important to us and ensure we are socializing with others and living a fulfilling life,” said Dr. Jeffrey L. Tharp, Wellstar Health System Chief of Primary Care and Medicine Service Line.
“Now that our elderly are practicing social distancing, they no longer have these outlets. This may lead to further downstream effects, such as exercise limitation, nutritional deficiencies and lack of compliance with medical appointments and treatments,” Dr. Tharp explained.
As stress and anxiety about the outbreak increases, seniors may also experience changes in sleep patterns and worsening signs of depression and dementia.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are several ways seniors can stay happy and healthy during this difficult time:
- Breakaway from news coverage. Watching, reading, or listening to constant news and social media stories about COVID-19 can increase stress and anxiety.
- Care for your physical health. Try to maintain your personal hygiene, eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep.Make time to rest and relax. Every day, set aside time for fun activities you enjoy.
- Stay connected with friends and family. Reach out to your trusted loved ones to share your concerns and feelings.
- Call your healthcare provider for support. If you are feeling overwhelmed several days in a row, ask for help from your healthcare team.
- Take action if strong emotions persist or worsen. If you, or a loved one, are feeling overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, depression or anxiety, or feel like you may harm yourself or others, call 911 for immediate assistance.
For more information, please visit our article about taking care of your mental health.
Offering Hope to Elderly Loved Ones
During this challenging time, friends and family can be an important support system for seniors. Even while social distancing to keep elderly loved ones safe, people can still find ways to connect with them.
Here are some easy ways to help older adults cope with the stress:
- Make a virtual visit. Setting up a video chat, making a phone call or sending a quick text message can go a long way in helping older adults feel connected.
- Send snail mail. Take the time to write a physical letter or send pictures of your favorite memories together. This small act of kindness can bring older adults comfort and hope.
- Brighten their space. Help seniors feel upbeat and positive by keeping their living spaces well-lit. Gift a flower arrangement to add a cheerful pop of color to their home.
- Encourage proper hygiene. Send little reminders to your loved ones to wash their hands often and bathe daily.
- Be mindful of mental health. Remind older adults to think positively and relax with fun activities like puzzles and other games.
- Take a walk down memory lane. Reminiscing about happier times can help improve memory function and bring older adults hope, even while they’re staying inside their homes.
- Keep news to a minimum. The constant media coverage about COVID-19 can be overwhelming for older adults. Suggest they only check one or two reputable news sources a day for the latest information.
- Lend a helping hand. Offer your care and support during this challenging time. Let your loved one know you’re just one phone call away if they need anything.
Finding ways to help elderly loved ones cope with anxiety and stress can help them stay healthy and hopeful. If you notice stress beginning to interfere with your loved one’s daily life, encourage them to reach out to their healthcare provider.
For more information, please visit the CDC’s website on keeping older adults safe both physically and mentally.