It’s undeniable that the pandemic has been taking a brutal toll on senior life and health, but there’s some good news–older individuals are proving much more resilient to the effects of isolation than any other age group. Multiple studies have indicated that older adults may be less negatively affected by mental health outcomes than younger age groups during the pandemic. It is believed that the life experiences of seniors provide them with “wisdom, a complex personality trait that provides for empathy, emotional regulation and the ability to self-reflect, decisiveness while accepting uncertainty and diversity of perspectives.”
Aging does have its advantages.
While these findings show promise that there’s light at the end of the tunnel, they’re not definitive–the data collected only represents the experience of seniors during the first few months of the pandemic, and a portion of every age group still reported some form of negative mental health effect. As this health crisis looms on, and the long-term effects remain unclear, it’s important to be aware of the known effects of senior isolation.
The Effects of Senior Isolation
A recent poll revealed that by June 2020, 56 percent of older adults felt isolated, which doubled the percentage of a 2018 poll on the same topic.
So what are the possible effects of isolation?
- Increased stress
- Difficulty sleeping
- Fear, anger, and worry about possibly contracting the virus
- Difficulty concentrating
- Headaches, body pains, and stomach problems
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased risk for heart disease and obesity
- Higher likelihood of smoking and drinking
- Decrease in physical activity
- Neglect of chronic health conditions
- Postponement of physician appointments
- Poor eating habits
- A worsening of cognitive challenges
- A lost sense of connection and community
Some scientists believe that loneliness can accelerate the buildup of plaque in arteries, help cancer cells grow and spread, and promote inflammation in the brain leading to Alzheimer’s disease.
Ways to Improve Mental Health in Isolation
The effects of senior isolation can be detrimental and dangerous, but there are several preventative measures you can take. Here are some tips for tackling loneliness and improving life during the pandemic:
Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to the news. Stay informed about the world around you, but not overloaded to the point of despair.
Get physical. Stretching, exercising, moving, and deep breathing are all activities for isolated seniors that will promote physical momentum, which can then generate positive emotional momentum.
Get proper nutrition, and avoid alcohol, tobacco or substance abuse. The relief they offer is temporary, and the physical price you pay for them isn’t worth it.
Stay on top of medical needs. Resolve to take your medications as prescribed and talk with your physician about your emotional and physical health.
Find some time to unwind. Listen to your favorite music. Take up an old hobby or start a new one.
Connect. Use social media, the telephone or the U.S. mail to stay in touch with family and friends. As more people become vaccinated, your opportunities to be around others are increasing. Strong relationships have been shown to be key to foster resilience against the effects of isolation.
The quality of the connection matters more than the quantity of connections you have–if you have just one or two loved ones you rely on, you’re still doing great!
Seek help. If the effects of isolation persist and become more debilitating, do not hesitate to seek additional help. Treatments for depression and anxiety disorders can include cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of psychological treatment which focuses on eliminating faulty or unhealthy ways of thinking and replacing them with better ways of coping. There are many other sources of information and treatment concerning mental health, ranging from treatment referral services to suicide hotlines.
Realize that you are stronger than you may think. You have years of experience to draw upon and are able to put things in perspective. However, don’t hesitate to seek help because of pride or embarrassment. There are family, friends and professionals who can and want to assist you.
You can beat the mental health effects of COVID-19.
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