Almost a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, and no one has been hit harder then the elderly. The deadly virus has taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of seniors, but their physical health isn’t the only thing being affected. We don’t often see the mental health of senior citizens as a main priority. The aging demographic and those involved prioritize their physical health first, whether that be trying to stay active, or dealing with an illness or a disease.
During COVID-19 there has been a huge spike in social isolation of the elderly, leading to severe loneliness and depression. Even before the pandemic erupted, senior citizens were experiencing social isolation, Dr. Joel Streim a psychiatry professor at University of Pennsylvania says, “I think what we’ve learned as the result of COVID is that it’s also not just ageism, not just mental illness.... It’s other things that are isolating. The pandemic of social isolation and loneliness was caused by the rapid advances in technology and communications, and also globalization — those people left behind in the world economy as a result of all those major changes and upheavals. The pandemic adds another layer of isolation and potential for loneliness.”
In our last blog post, “Going Digital” we touch on the importance of getting the elderly to try and become as technologically savvy as they can be, but getting on the net, or being on a device obviously is not for everyone. While an iPad might be a savior for one person, it might not play the same role in somebody else's life. For someone else, simply being able to use the phone just for a phone call may make a huge difference in their mental health. Being able to connect looks different for everyone.
If you live in a state where you are able to visit a loved one in a facility, or you are able to volunteer to go and visit people who are feeling socially isolated, this will play a huge role in helping with the feeling of severe social isolation the elderly are experiencing. The elderly are feeling forgotten and left behind.
Social isolation and loneliness aren't limited to the elderly in facilities. Elderly people are self isolating in their own homes, to ensure their safety, and this can be just as depressing. If you have a loved one staying home, try and encourage them to set some sort of schedule for themselves. Whether that is getting up at a certain time, going for a walk, painting, reading, or anything else they may find comforting. Keeping a schedule has been said to improve anxiety, depression and cognitive decline.
Other yet still effective ways to help with the mental health of the elderly make look something like- making sure they are sleeping well, making sure their meds are in check, seeking professional help if needed, feeding them a healthy diet, or even just making sure you call to say "Hi" everyday.
Check on your loved ones anyway you can, the feeling of isolation and depression isn’t limited to one age group. While studies do show that the elderly are more resilient and can find comfort in alone time more so than the younger generations, we are in unprecedented times.