Preventative isolation and greater vulnerability does not have to mean being alone. And once we cope through this, how will our lives evolve as quarantine gradually lifts?
The Loss of Normalcy, Compounded
The pandemic is known to be a ‘greater physical health risk’ for those of our community 60+, requiring more stringent isolation and limited in-person contact. But these strategies also bring a greater risk to mental health and wellness. Curtailed activities, cancelled plans and absent social interactions can make our world smaller, resulting in loss and grief. The general anxiety of getting sick is compounded with a greater risk of fragility and isolation.
Asking for Help from Families and Neighbors
We may be reluctant to bother those we love, or be too self-conscious to ask for help. We worry that our families and neighbors may also be struggling with remote caregiving while overseeing kids and/or job at home, and the potential loss of their own health, income, mobility and control.
Even so, consider checking in, asking for help, calling a friend or family member; with so much control taken away, many people will welcome the chance to be of help and do something concrete to feel more productive.
And reaching out to others reminds us of our own strength and power. Everyone should be mindful of the isolation of those around you, and the power you have to really make a difference. If you can, volunteer to help others through your community, or just connect with your neighbors. We have been told that a quick phone call, picking up mail, sharing puzzles and food/supplies have “made” a huge difference to both giver and receiver. We know of one 94 year old organizing a phone book swap, with community volunteers delivering the books, puzzles and notes between quarantine apartments; the community support and good-will has created new relationships and networks.
Creating Routines, Staying Engaged
Just as our bodies do better when we use them and keep them healthy, our minds require exercise and care. All of us, especially those in the last third of our lives, do better when:
There is a structure and routine to anchor our day. (Creating a schedule, which may include showering, getting dressed, doing chores, working, news, cooking, movies, eating, exercising, etc..)
Our day includes tasks to provide purpose and accomplishment. (Projects, puzzles, calls, baking, painting, dancing, crafts, knitting….)
We have ready access to activities. Books, papers, movies and music provide both novelty and familiar comfort. (Communities such as religious groups, book groups, knitting groups and other affiliations are moving toward creative online presences to keep community active.)
We take care of our physical and mental health. Staying hydrated, eating at least three times a day, keeping our bodies moving, even if it is indoors and inplace. Being present, limiting news, deep breathing, and discussing our anxiety and grief with family, friends and therapeutic professionals reinforces our strength and resiliency.
We stay connected. Friends/family far away? No problem.
Leveraging Technology to Stay Connected and Engaged
No matter where you are, technology has created the ability to interact with family, friends, neighbors and those in support service roles, including email, phones, tablets, computers, media streaming.
Family plans can include remote family members, allowing for sharing of movies, group video chats, phone calls, on-line tours of museums and places, even card games. Audio and eBooks can be shared.
Those without tech savvy need not worry. Families can expand their current streaming/technology plans and provide instruction (tech-savvy grandchildren are a wonderful asset in this.) Many independent living and nursing home facilities are providing this access by facilitating video calls and supporting familiarity with, and usage of, these technologies.
Taking Care of Yourself, and Being Kind
Try to be as present in the current moment as possible. If you are sad, give yourself permission to grieve the loss of people, plans, and milestones. It is okay to miss current access to your hobbies, your favorite restaurant, your gym, your friends. Look for moments of self-care and joy during your day, even if they are small breaks and simple pleasures.
As a society, we are coping with a variety of losses, including loss of control, financial stability, routine, interaction, sense of safety, certainty, and normalcy. We also may be grieving the loss of friends and loved ones. Remember that in times of stress, people who are struggling may need our understanding and forgiveness even more. Fear and anxiety can increase reactivity. Be flexible and kind to yourself and to others.
There are many online resources to call for assistance and support, including support groups and teletherapy. If you have a history of personal challenges with anxiety, depression, substance abuse or trauma, or do not feel safe where you are, remember that community resources are still available and up-and-running. Please reach out. You are not alone.
The Future: New Trends, Services and Ideas for Seniors
Looking beyond this crisis, we will likely transition into a world that will be different for the more vulnerable, but also more active, longer working, and longer-lived 60+ segment. This global experience has shown the need for more services and options. Forbes recently published an article discussing likely shifts in how seniors live and what new products and options might be available for seniors and caregivers, impacting planning, choices, lifestyle, housing, health support, continuing education, and finances. New services and solutions are likely to emerge, such as Aging Workforce Solutions in Darien, CT, which works with companies, seniors and their families on all financial decisions and planning from retirement through medical through estate planning. Physical and mental health practitioners such as Therapy for Change LLC, focused on this life-stage and the unique concerns of this segment and their families in CT, will hopefully proliferate.
We know the future will be different, but hopefully in some ways more attentive to our needs. And equally important, we hope to retain recognition of our generational interdependence, and a more conscious practice of kindness and generosity.
Stay safe and take care.
Do you have a story to share about how you are coping with current challenges? We’d love to have you share in the comment section below.
Diane Ferber, LMFTA, THERAPY FOR CHANGE, LLC 203-403-2089