Family dynamics have intensified for many in the era of coronavirus. Few are as affected as older adults. Older adults are at increased risk for complications and death from COVID-19. They also can be more likely to suffer from behavioral health issues like anxiety, depression, and adjustment disorders that are associated prolonged isolation.
This pickle got us wondering: How can we help the older members of our families to stay safe, feel the love, and come through this experience in good health?
Peggy Patterson, a social worker and clinical supervisor of Older Adult Services at Multicare Behavioral Health Network, shared some keen insights.
Q: Today’s older generation has been subject to reports of being less diligent about staying home. Yet, they’re at high risk. Do you think there’s a disconnect?
A: A lot of older adults want to remain independent and take care of themselves. Sometimes they’re in conflict with their adult children about this. Because many older adults aren’t working, and don’t have kids in school, they construct their routines around activities like volunteering, running errands, and socializing with friends.
It can help to find purpose with an older adult and ground that purpose at home. Some meaningful activities that you could involve your older adult parents in include:
- Volunteering together from your homes. Consider making masks. Set a goal number each week. If your family loves to compete, make it a competition. Volunteering from home helps everyone feel valuable and it helps others.
- If you have children, ask your parents to connect with their grandchildren. They might call daily or send letters. Most kids love to get mail.
- Stay in routine together. This can mean talking about sleep times, calling daily, and dropping by groceries if needed.
Q: Isolation is hard, even when you’re surrounded by family. What are the particular challenges for older adults who might live alone, or be a primary caregiver to a spouse?
A: A lot of older adults do live alone. Some are primary caretakers for a spouse; the role presents its own challenges. There is a higher propensity for grief with this segment too because it’s more likely they know someone who died after contracting COVID-19. With all of this can come anxiety, depression, need for adjustment support, and more. We want people to know:
- Counseling is available to older adults. They can access it through the telephone at Multicare Behavioral Health. Sometimes talking to a counselor over the phone can be really helpful. A lot of people feel less exposed over the phone because the phone lends itself to a certain intimacy. As non-native digital users, phone therapy works for a lot of older adults
- We find that behavioral health care is more likely to be stigmatized by older adults. We want them, and their families, to understand that in many cases relief from suffering can happen in a just few therapy sessions with some direction from a counselor.
Q: Coronavirus restrictions are being lifted in phases. What’s your advice to older adults about emerging from isolation?
A: Easy does it. Easing back into past habits is a good way to go. Pick a small number of things that are important to you. Go slowly and enjoy them.
- Your choices should be unique to you. It’s wise to continue to limit contact with others. If you’ve been having your groceries delivered and it’s working, stay out of the store. But when salons open you might want to schedule that hair appoint you’ve missed so much. Try to be one of the first people in that day to limit exposure risk.
- Prioritize health care. If you’re managing a health condition for yourself or your spouse, or put off care because of the stay home order, get in touch with the care provider. That check in will do you some good.
- Be cautious. Pick one or two things each week that you do. Limit outings to a maximum two stops. Maybe stay home the next day.
- Expect good things. Savor and really enjoy the things you are able to do.
Need to schedule a counseling visit for an older adult? Call Multicare Behavioral Health Network’s Older Adult Services for Pierce County at 253-697-8400, Option 2.