As the months drag on since COVID-19 shut down the world, individuals of all ages are suffering from the prolonged effects of self-isolation. While self-care and personally-focused mental health resources abound, one of the most significantly affected demographics, seniors, has largely gone unnoticed.
Seniors and Self-Isolation
The truth is, seniors have collectively suffered from self-isolation long before the coronavirus appeared on the scene. Whether it’s from isolation caused by grief over losing a loved one or the simple fact that they don’t receive visitors, many of the elderly have struggled with loneliness, both in the past and the present. In fact, nearly one in four of those over the age of 65 was already considered to be “socially isolated” on a regular basis outside of the context of COVID-19. This isolation can lead to heightened risks for, among other things, cardiovascular, neurocognitive, and autoimmune health concerns.
With quarantine only exacerbating this pre-existing issue, it’s more important than ever to find ways to emotionally support the elderly that are alone for long periods of time. If you know a senior who is in self-isolation, here are several social-distancing-appropriate suggestions for ways that you can help them to maintain their emotional, physical, and mental health.
Make Sure They Have What They Need
With quarantined self-care at the front of everyone’s minds, the first thing you may want to do when it comes to supporting grandma or grandpa is to make sure that they have what they need to take care of themselves as well.
Go over the essentials that an elderly person may need, everything from hygiene items to a smartphone or laptop that they can use to stay connected. Not only will this provide them with a better quality of life, but it will show emotional support as you give them attention and look out for their needs.
Use Technology to Stay in Contact
While physical visits may be out of the question, that shouldn’t stop you from attempting to make virtual contact with your elders. Modern technology has become increasingly user-friendly-focused, and chances are you can find an easy way to connect your loved ones from time to time. This can include:
- Texting or contacting them on Facebook.
- Calling them on the phone.
- Communicating via video chat.
- Sending them an email.
Regardless of the specific medium used, try to set up a channel of communication that will be the most comfortable. Then try to schedule in time to stay in regular contact.
Send Them Gifts
Another way to show that you’re thinking about the elders in your life is by sending them a gift. This doesn’t have to be fancy. On the contrary, they likely already have everything that they need.
However, flowers, chocolates, a book, or any other smaller item can be a great way to brighten up their day without the need to physically be in their presence. Just remember to include a note in your gift to add that extra personal touch.
Suggest that They Get an ESA
If you find that you know a senior who is steadily declining as they struggle with self-isolation, one way to bring social-distancing-safe companionship into their lives is by suggesting that they get an emotional support animal.
A psychiatric service dog, for instance, is trained to detect psychiatric episodes — such as depression, anxiety, or panic attacks — when they start and then actively help their owner to combat them. Steering an elder towards getting an animal companion that is trained to help them deal with the effects of isolation can be the perfect way to emotionally support from a distance.
When in Doubt, Go to a Professional
Finally, if you find that your attempts to help the senior(s) in your life are failing, you may want to consider directing them towards professional help. Grief counseling and grief therapy are powerfully effective methods that can help an individual understand why they’re struggling and equip them with the best tools to fight back.
If you find that an older adult is hesitant to seek help due to the costs involved, help them look into what treatments fall under their health insurance. For instance, Medicare parts A and B cover many different mental health services. In addition, with COVID-19 keeping everyone at home, telemedicine has expanded exponentially, making a virtual visit to the doctor easier than ever.
Emotionally Supporting Elders from Afar
Whether you’re caring for their needs, contacting them regularly, helping them procure and ESA, or encouraging them to reach out to a professional, there are many ways to emotionally support the isolated older adults in your life.
However, the critical first step is that you actually reach out to see how they’re doing in the first place. Make initial contact with the seniors that you care about and then gauge what kind of emotional support they need. They do your best to provide it without endangering their health in the process.
Updated: July 23, 2020