Opinion

Social Isolation a Problem for Elderly During Pandemic

By MARY FLAHIVE-DICKSON

Seemingly, there is very little time for reflection these days. As we move from one news report, one Zoom meeting, one emergency to another, it is not lost on us that this is not our norm; life has changed. Restlessness is nationwide. Our communities are apprehensive at best, and our seniors are even more isolated now than any other historical time.

Social isolation, while defined as a lack of relationships and meaningful contact with society, needs to be further contemplated and gauged in our elder population as COVID-19 continues to force us to shelter in place, while begging for social and physical distance.

Caregivers, as catechized members of the front line, are being asked to rise to the challenge of defense against physical and social isolation of seniors.

Our elders are seemingly the target of so many evil pathogens and infections as their immunologic response has slowed and their physicality is compromised. Add life-changing risk factors such as retirement, death of loved ones, and the global nature of our society to the geriatric mix, and oftentimes the result assumes the form of social and physical isolation and loneliness.

Isolated and lonely seniors are at an increased risk for additional physical and emotional health conditions such as anxiety, high blood pressure, depression, and cognitive decline. With the loss of a sense of connectivity to the outside world and specifically their community, our elders run the risk of a decrease in wellness and a general decline in health.

Additionally, and especially in the current COVID-19 theatre, physical and emotional needs such as activities of daily living (ADL), companionship, and personal care may not be satisfied or executed. This situation is yet another nail in the proverbial coffin of enabling an immunologic response to infections, therefore rendering individuals less able to fight off disease, while increasing their risk of mortality.

Conversely, elders who engage with society, continue to be active and cognitively stimulated, have conversations, and have their ADLs satiated oftentimes experience increased positive influential health opportunities and many times are able to maintain the state of wellness longer.

Our role as caregivers is to facilitate an improvement or at least a maintenance of independence, health, and well-being of our elders. By providing for and assisting them with activities of daily living, promoting self-care, and reinforcing social support and a sense of community, caregivers continue to promote and disseminate multiple dimensions of physical and emotional health and wellness among this population.

As society continues to seesaw under the cloud of COVID-19, the senior population is not exempt from partaking in groups, programs, and activities which can help in thwarting physical and social isolation and loneliness. In fact, for the seniors, it is just the opposite. No populace has seen a furthering of isolation more than the seniors.

And, with home care widely accepted as a significant player in promotion of health and wellness, staving off mortality and reduction of admissions to institutional care such as hospitals and skilled-nursing facilities, caregivers’ roles should be touted as the front-line essential necessity they have always been, albeit unpronounced.

Mary Flahive-Dickson is chief operating officer for Golden Years Home Care Services.


Helping Young People Cope with Feelings of Loss Amid COVID-19

By SARA KENDALL

Rites of passage are part of the human experience. Graduations, new jobs, weddings, anniversaries, and other significant milestones are acknowledged and celebrated by families, friends, peers, and larger communities. High-school graduation — the culmination of the long goodbye that is senior year — is a milestone marked this time of year. After proms, senior-day games, spring musicals, and final exams, students traditionally come together as a group one last time. They listen to speeches and share memories, then walk up on a stage, shake hands, and receive a diploma.

Such events exist with reason and purpose. But this year, traditional milestone celebrations will go missing under the cloud of COVID-19. What was envisioned as a pinnacle of their young lives abruptly switched, with no final sendoff to be relished and shared. Young people are especially resilient and are able to adapt to new, creative ways of recognizing these significant life events.

High-school students aren’t the only ones missing out. This year, there are other milestones we won’t be celebrating in the traditional sense. Little ones are transitioning from kindergarten to first grade. Teens are finishing middle school and preparing for high school. What will their summer vacation look like? Young adults are finishing college or graduate school. Some made plans for a first job or enlisted for public service. Families have postponed vacations and weddings, and even had to attend funerals virtually. What adds to the difficulty is the unknown nature of how long life will be altered this way and how life in the post-COVID-19 world will play out.

Young people in particular are seeing their rites of passage canceled. Being isolated from their friends, they may feel emotionally drained. Parents, teachers, coaches, and other influential adults may themselves struggling with how to respond to the heartbreak so many young people in their lives may be feeling. These adults may be wondering how young people are coping in the face of so many unknowns.

When milestones go missing, people feel a sense that they will never get these opportunities back or have the chance to experience them in anything like the way they envisioned.

The expectation of what the next chapter of life is supposed to be has been altered. Young people were already working toward the start of a new unknown like college or work. Now they need to prepare for that in a world where things look vastly different and change by the day.

You may be wondering if you’re asking the right questions. Making the time to ask about how a young person feels matters more than the specific questions you may ask. Often, the best approach to encourage someone to talk about how they feel is to be simple and direct. Say something like this: ‘with everything that’s been going on in the world, I’ve been thinking about you, and I’m wondering, how are you?’ And then just listen. You may have to wait for the words to start, so be patient.

If a young person you care about would like to talk with a mental-health professional about how they’re feeling, MHA’s BestLife Emotional Health & Wellness Center offers TeleWell service delivery, enabling them to connect with a licensed BestLife clinician via smartphone, tablet, or computer. It’s easy to set up the app, and most insurance is accepted. To learn more, call (844) MHA-WELL.

Sara Kendall is vice president of Clinical Operations for MHA Inc.

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