May 18, 2020

Stress, fear, and anxiety are common challenges for seniors — and many older adults are finding these difficult emotions even more challenging, given the current spread of the coronavirus COVID-19. 

COVID-19 is a dangerous virus, and can be particularly threatening to seniors, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As a result, many seniors may be dealing with increased anxiety about catching the disease, or being a carrier for their loved ones.

In other cases, seniors may face additional stress and anxiety due to the social distancing measures that have been put in place around the country. For older adults who are used to going to the opera or enjoying lots of time with family and friends, this new period of isolation may make them feel lonely or distant. For older adults with friends or family in nursing homes or assisted living facilities, it can be stressful and scary to think about how their loved ones may be coping right now. 

Like people of all ages, many older adults are staying inside and watching the news non-stop, which can exacerbate and intensify anxiety and worry. This can lead to cabin fever, and accompanying feelings of restlessness and depression.

Whatever the root cause, the effects of anxiety and stress can be significant. As the CDC explains, “stress during an infectious disease outbreak” can lead to: 

  • Intense fear and worry about “your own health and the health of your loved ones”
  • Changes in sleep or diet
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
  • Worsening of chronic health problems
  • Worsening of mental health conditions
  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs

As the CDC puts it, finding ways to cope with stress “will make you, the people you care about, and your community stronger.”

So, as a loving family member to an older adult, what can you do to help the senior in your life cope with stress and anxiety from the outbreak and social distancing? Here are a few key steps you can take to help: 

Find Ways to Stay Connected

In good times and bad, staying social can help make life healthier and happier for seniors. Connecting with others has many proven health benefits for older adults, including lower rates of chronic disease, improved mood and self-esteem, and even increased longevity. 

In these difficult times, staying connected can help seniors stay calm, give them something to look forward to, and offer an outlet to express their concerns and talk about how they’re feeling. There are many different ways to stay connected with your elderly loved ones, while maintaining healthy social distancing practices. Give them a call by phone; set up a video call; write notes or letters; and drop off care packages to help remind the senior in your life that they are not alone. 

Meanwhile, encourage your loved one to stay connected with their healthcare teams, including any mental health providers. In response to the COVID crisis, many services have moved online — meaning that there have never been more ways for older adults “to connect with therapists and to address anxiety and depression,” as Raychelle Cassada Lohmann writes for U.S. News & World Report. She continues: 

“In these unprecedented times, many therapists are offering to counsel clients through telehealth, or specifically what’s referred to as teletherapy. This allows clients to interact virtually with their therapists from the comfort of their homes using only a smartphone or tablet. Due to the scope of the COVID-19 pandemic, many insurance plans are accepting telehealth as a viable option to conduct therapy. Just check with your plan in advance to see if this is covered.”

Stay Prepared, and Check the Facts

During these uncertain times, people of all ages may be nervous about the future. One way to help may be to plan ahead. For example, if your senior loved one is worried about running out of food, you can help them restock their pantry and inventory what they have on hand, to make them feel more secure and confident. 

With the whirlwind of information currently flying around, many seniors may also feel overwhelmed by news stories and updates about the virus — many of which are incomplete, inaccurate, or misleading. Taking time to know the facts can help reduce stress, as the CDC explains: 

“Understanding the risk to yourself and people you care about can make an outbreak less stressful. When you share accurate information about COVID-19, you can help make people feel less stressed and make a connection with them.”

You can also look for positive news stories — like reports about random acts of kindness, or people taking care of their communities in the face of the pandemic. 

Relax, Unwind, and Step Away From the News

In order to cope with stress, the CDC encourages people to “take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media,” as “hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.” 

When your loved one starts to seem flustered or overwhelmed, try to find ways to help them relax. You could help them focus on a beloved pastime, like reading, knitting, or baking, or start a new hobby, like learning a language or working on an art project. You can play games, watch movies, and share stories over the phone or through video calls. There are all sorts of resources that can make it easier to detach from what’s going on and enjoy some amazing experiences — from virtual play readings, to interactive online classes, to digital tours of local museums and galleries. You can find some remarkable virtual experiences from around Chicago here and here, courtesy of Choose Chicago and Curbed

Go Outside

While Illinois and other states may be under a “Stay-at-Home” order, it’s important to remember that staying at home doesn’t have to mean always staying inside. Helping a senior loved one get out and enjoy some fresh air and sunshine can have some enormous benefits for their health and well-being. As Dr. Lohmann explains: 

“Research from Sweden suggests that being outside is associated with a lower risk of developing psychiatric disorders. In a separate study published in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research, researchers showed that spending about 20 minutes in the park can improve your overall well-being… Even if you can’t get to a park, just getting some fresh air – while keeping 6 feet from others outside your household – can do you a world of good.”

Be sure to follow all social distancing guidelines, and encourage your loved one to wear a mask or face covering, in compliance with CDC recommendations. 

Take Care of Your Overall Health

Our minds and bodies are intimately connected. In these trying times, one of the most important ways to protect your mental health may be to start with your physical health and well-being. This includes getting plenty of sleep, eating a healthy diet, and finding time to exercise and stay active. For seniors and caregivers alike, taking some simple steps to take care of your body can make an enormous difference for your overall health and peace of mind.

 Looking for some ideas to help the senior in your life protect their health and peace of mind? Here are a few of our resources and guides that may help: 

Have Any More Questions? Companions for Seniors Is Here to Help

We’re all in this together right now. As Dr. Lohmann puts it for U.S. News:

“Fear of the unknown and uncertainty over how long we’ll have to resort to limiting our daily lives, fear of contracting the coronavirus or even worry about how this will affect one’s financial situation are legitimate concerns. But it’s important to know that we are all in this together. There are millions of Americans who are worried about the same thing and feeling the effects of COVID-19. So, even though we are physically isolated, we are not alone in how we are feeling.”

Looking for a helping hand as your loved one adjusts to life at home? Want to talk about ideas that can help prepare your elderly loved ones for a potential emergency situation, or connect with local resources? 

Whether you’re looking for in-home care services or simply guidance on how to adapt to our changing situation, we’re always here and ready to help, in whatever way we can. Don’t hesitate to get in touch whenever you want to discuss the best plan of action for yourself and your elderly family.

At Companions for Seniors, our mission is to help seniors live independently and with dignity in the comfort of their own home by empowering them to lead an active and enriched lifestyle, connecting them with their community, and nurturing meaningful relationships.

Our companions are trained and bonded, and can help provide a variety of services designed to help seniors remain in the comfort of their own homes, including providing assistance with housekeeping, activities of daily living (ADLs), driving services, and more.

Want to keep the conversation going? Get in touch online using our handy online portal, or give us a call at 866-910-9020 today.