Advise Me

Helping Seniors with Mental Illness Cope with Pandemic Isolation

At the end of a busy day, a little separation from work or your kids can be just what the doctor ordered. Even while isolating during the pandemic, life can be hectic and your home life might feel more chaotic. However, for seniors with mental illness, the new normal can include significantly more “alone time” than before. This has left many feeling isolated and anxious.

Sharon Pendlebury is the program director for senior behavioral health services at McKee Medical Center. Throughout 2020, she has seen many cases of seniors impacted by the need to socially distance. We asked her for tips to help keep everyone safe, social and smiling.

Avoid the Year of Fear

Seniors have shown to be among those most vulnerable to COVID-19. In 2020, it’s completely natural to feel anxiety and fear. That fear tends to amplify when you are isolated. Pendlebury noted that “almost universally, patients who were admitted to our Senior Behavioral Health Unit in June reported that they were concerned about accessing emergency treatment because of anxiety about being exposed to COVID-19.” While fear is natural, it can get in the way of necessary care. The medical world has implemented new and rigorous precautions over the last year to make sure that patients are safe. Comfort your loved ones so that they don’t put off health care needs for fear of exposure.

5 Ideas to Be Safe and Social

Pendlebury offered a few ways that she has seen families and loved ones stay connected with seniors with mental illness. Try building a stronger connection with a few of these ideas.

1. Set Up Virtual Sharing Time

If you’re not living with your loved one, set up regular times for them to speak with the family. A reliable schedule that they can count on will help for those with mental illness. This is an opportunity for grandkids to share details from a class project or a drawing that they recently did. Did the dog learn a new trick? Show it off with the help of a video call. This will help all parties feel included and involved in daily life.

2. Schedule a Daily Activity

If your loved one is living with you, a daily activity can be the perfect way to break up the monotony. Pendlebury recommended going for a 15-min walk through the neighborhood, gardening, or pursuing a hobby like photography. When daily activities can also include social interaction, you will find that they are doubly effective. Join in the fun with your loved one and share the activity with them.

3. Plan a Story for Phone Calls

While casual conversation with a loved one may flow most of the time, it’s normal for interest to dip from time to time. Try taking a few notes during the day and reference them during your call so that you can show that you are always thinking of them. You should tell stories from your day and be sure to ask them about theirs as well.

4. Find Internet-Based Outlets for Their Passions

Today’s virtual world is full of ways to experience destinations and events online. What passions does your loved one have that they haven’t been able to experience in years? Or even since COVID-19 began. Look up broadcasts for their favorite bands, replay tours from adventurous destinations, or help them join a live stream for a meaningful religious service. Encourage interaction by helping them sign up for and participate in a book club or something similar. Today’s technology means that entertainment is never far away!

5. Go for a Picnic or Meet-Up

Pendlebury reminded that physical meetups are possible when social distancing and proper precautions are followed. While weather allows, plan for a picnic outdoors, away from crowds. This is also an opportunity to responsibly visit with friends that they may not have seen for a while. Just be sure to wash hands regularly, wear masks, avoid touching your face and maintain the 6-foot distance that we all have become familiar with.

Show Your Smile

COVID-19 has slowed things down a bit. Take advantage of this moment to connect with the people we love most. How can you help the seniors with mental illness in your life to find hope and positivity among unprecedented circumstances?

Alzheimers Disease and Dementia Caregiving Senior Health Behavioral Health

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