Senior citizens have suffered the effects of quarantine more than any other age group. Since seniors are at greatest risk for contracting COVID-19 and becoming severely ill from it, it has been necessary to protect them more than other groups. Unfortunately, this has led to months and months of social isolation and quarantine, damaging both mental and physical health.
Now more than ever, it’s important for seniors to focus on improving mental health from the loneliness that comes from not being able to see loved ones and friends.
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Quarantine, Loneliness, and Social Isolation
The most obvious effect of social isolation during the pandemic is loneliness. Even prior to the pandemic, loneliness had been considered a serious public health risk affecting the older adult population. The statistics show that a significant number of adults 50 years old and up suffer from loneliness, something that directly increased the risk of developing dementia and depression.
Loneliness contributes to cognitive decline through multiple physical and emotional pathways, such as depression, physical inactivity, poor sleep and poor eating. It can also lead to increased drinking, smoking, overeating, lack of appetite, and junk food bingeing, all of which increase the possibilities of heart disease and stroke.
Greater or prolonged loneliness is associated with lower cognitive function. Socially isolated seniors who participated in memory testing exhibited significant memory loss and inability to process information quickly.
How to Lessen the Effects of Social Isolation
Stay in Touch
The most important thing to do to counter the effects of social isolation is to stay in contact with family and loved ones. Regularly connect with them by phone and by letter. If you are computer savvy, stay in touch by email, Zoom, Skype or Facetime. You can maintain your bonds with friends and family, even without them being physically with you. If you don't know how to use a computer, take the time to learn.
As Thomas Jefferson famously said, "Knowledge is power." Stay abreast of what's going on in the world and be informed, not alarmed. This will help you stay connected to the world at large and be aware of the big picture. You really will see that you are not alone, and we are all in this together.
Foster Your Own Social Connectedness
During the pandemic, most elderly adults stayed at home, severely limiting contact with people outside their own household. Residents in senior communities may not have had any visitors in months. To help get past the physical social isolation, look through pictures of shared events, such as picnics, holiday gatherings, or birthday celebrations. Allow yourself to remember and experience all the good feelings associated with those events. Indulge in nostalgia, but in a positive way. Bring up shared memories when talking with loved ones on the phone or communicating through a letter or email. It will help you rekindle your connection to these people and events, and reinforce memories that bond you together.
Be Proactive: Stay Busy
Keep your mind sharp. Learn something new. Take up crocheting or knitting. Paint. Read a book or a magazine. Do crossword puzzles. Write in a diary. Play cards. Take up chess. Try scrapbooking.
Get your body moving – everything from physically exerting exercise to chair yoga. Learn how to meditate. Join or form a "club" with people who share an interest, a cultural background, a religion -- even if the "meetings" are not in person.
The possibilities are endless, but you have to make and take the time and the effort to be engaged, even if you have to force yourself at first. It will be worth it in the long run.
Enjoy the Little Things
Every day brings something we can be thankful for or provides a moment of joy – even if it's fleeting. Embrace that moment. It might be the feeling of having a great cup of coffee, or reading something in a book, seeing something on TV that brings a smile to your face, or just enjoying a sunny day.
How to Adjust to Post-Pandemic Life
Some things will go back to "normal;" some have been changed forever.
Most seniors should continue to take health precautions even after being vaccinated against COVID. Masks and hand washing will continue to be important in everyday life. You can accept visits, as long as the proper health protocols are followed. Be smart, not scared.
During the pandemic, medical personnel found that they were able to treat patients effectively through video visits, and they were able to "see" more patients. This will be especially helpful for seniors who are not able to get to a doctor easily and also for those seniors who still might be hesitant about going to a doctor's office filled with sick patients.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world as we know it. You need to accept that while some aspects of life will be the same, some will be very different. If you remain flexible and go with the flow, it will make the transition to the post-pandemic era much easier for you and more enjoyable.
Sarasota Bay Club is determined to provide a safe, healthy environment during and after this pandemic subsides. For more information on our community, contact us today.