Statistics have shown that quarantining yourself and practicing social distancing can and has played an essential role in preventing the spread of infectious diseases such as COVID-19. Despite having this knowledge, it does not mean that coping with a significant disruption in your normal daily routine is easy. This is especially true when it comes to senior living communities and the mental health of seniors for whom communication and socialization are a vital part of their day when they join our Anchorage assisted living facility.

The global outbreak of COVID-19 has forced people to practice social distancing in the interest of “flattening the curve”. This means people are following stay at home orders and avoiding coming within six feet of others while out in public. It also means many businesses statewide have closed in the interest of safety, and gatherings of more than a few people have been banned in many states. All of these necessary but frustrating changes have increased challenges when it comes to mental health.

Quarantine and How It Impacts Health at Senior Living Communities

The Centers for Disease Control defines the word ‘quarantine” as separating and restricting the movement of people who have been exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick. Since some diseases can be contagious even while people remain asymptomatic (without any visible or identifiable symptoms), this step minimizes the speed with which illnesses may spread during the period where people are unaware they are sick.

In addition to the stress and anxiety associated with a global outbreak of a potentially lethal pandemic, spending time in quarantine alone, as is the case for many seniors, can take a serious toll on mental health as well. Part of the reason for this is due to the impact quarantine has on three key elements of mental health. These include:

  •       Autonomy
  •       Competency
  •       Connectedness

The feelings of isolation imposed by quarantine often leave people feeling as though they have no control over the situation. People also feel cut off from the rest of the world and unable to participate in their normal activities and hobbies.

Social isolation carries with it several physical health risks as well. Many of these are increased for seniors due to pre-existing health concerns and disease. Feeling isolated, which is a normal impact of quarantine, can lead to poor sleep, poor cardiovascular health decreased immunity, and increased symptoms of depression.

Factors That Influence Coping

It is valuable to remember that everyone copes with stress and increased anxiety in different ways. Some people may be able to cope with the isolation and disruptions associated with a quarantine better than others. In addition, some people may have a much stronger support system under the same roof. It is indeed easier to quarantine when you are not doing so alone. For many seniors, this time of quarantine results in increased isolation as compared to before the outbreak of COVID-19. Many seniors are either living alone or in community living environments where visitors have been temporarily discouraged in an attempt to limit potential exposure to the virus.

There are a variety of other factors that impact how people, especially seniors, cope with the stressors and fears quarantine can bring about.

Current Mental Health

If someone already struggles with a pre-existing mental health condition or anxiety disorder, the fears and concerns associated with COVID-19 may be much harder to manage. This includes seniors who may become ill or those who quarantine to avoid being ill. Unfortunately, quarantine and fear of the unknown can add an additional layer of fear and anxiety on top of what an individual may already be experiencing.

How One Deals With Stress

If a person is normally fairly resilient when faced with stress or potentially traumatic events, they may possess coping skills that will make quarantine a little easier to manage.

How Long and Why Quarantine Occurs

The duration of quarantine is a key element in determining how well people can cope with the process. The longer restrictions last, the more isolated people tend to feel and for a good reason. Additionally, the reasons why someone enters quarantine could have an impact as well. If a senior enters quarantine because they are ill, there is a legitimate reason for anxiety and fear to be elevated. The COVID-19 virus has shown to have a more severe impact on those over the age of sixty-five. For this age group, the symptoms are worse, and the mortality rate seems to be higher. If a senior enters quarantine for safety and to reduce the potential for getting sick, the anxiety associated with quarantine may be reduced.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends a fourteen-day minimum quarantine period to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. While this is challenging, it has proven to be the most effective span of time. Prolonging quarantine beyond the recommended time may cause greater detriment to mental health and emotional well-being.

Helping Seniors Feel Less Lonely During Quarantine

Increased loneliness and associated feelings of anxiety and depression are normal for seniors during this time. For many seniors, social activities are essential to their mental health. Unfortunately, for social distancing to be successful, many of the groups and events which act as lifelines for seniors have been rescheduled or canceled. This includes activities such as church, hobby groups, exercise groups, and anything else which results in a group of more than a few people together in the same place. Many states have “end dates” for closures and stay at home orders, but these dates are subject to and have continued to change in the interest of ongoing safety. So, until business begin to reopen, and social distancing guidelines start to relax what are some things seniors living at Senior Living communities such as Baxter have to help mitigate impacts to their mental health.

 Establish Routines

Social isolation and quarantine (especially if you are ill) can cause significant disruptions in daily routines. For seniors, this can be one of the most difficult aspects of quarantine, especially as they are tasked with filling the hours of the day that were once filled with hobbies or social functions. If possible and health allow, try to plan a daily schedule that is as close to your regular schedule as possible. Try to wake up and get dressed each morning as though you weren’t in quarantine. The same holds true for eating and going to bed. Try to stick as close to what a typical day would look like. This helps to limit the amount of disruption you may feel as well as reduce feelings of anxiety and fear that may come with increased uncertainty. This suggestion is certainly more applicable to those who choose to quarantine voluntarily. If you are ill, follow the advice of your medical provider and listen to your body. Only do what you feel comfortable doing.

Actively Communicate

The feelings of isolation associated with quarantine can quickly lead to anxiety and depression for seniors. Seniors often look forward to visits with family and friends as well as spending time with social groups. These forms of in-person communication are not allowed during social isolation or quarantine. To reduce anxiety, depression, and feelings of fear, frustration, and anger, which can all come out of quarantining away from loved ones, be sure to communicate often. Staying in contact with others can help in several ways. It can help to stave off boredom, minimize the sense of isolation, and help friends and family to know that everyone is ok and healthy. In previous posts, we have discussed some of the many ways seniors can use technology to communicate during the COVID-19 pandemic. In brief, these include apps such as FaceTime and Skype, as well as other virtual communication programs like Zoom and others. Even a good old-fashioned phone call can help to minimize feelings of isolation.

Stay as Active As Possible

Although group fitness programs and other group events are currently on hold, this is a great time to get things done around the house. Staying active can help to distract your mind from the anxiety associated with what is going on outside your doors. Now is also a good time to consider learning or trying a new hobby. Perhaps you have always wanted to learn to crochet or knit? There are many online videos available to help teach the basics. Exercise is also great for mental health. It not only serves as a distraction but can also help keep you physically healthy. If you are able, get outside and take a walk. If not, try an online workout activity or low impact activity such as yoga or meditation. Both can also help to reduce feelings of anxiety and stress associated with quarantine.

If your senior loved one lives in a senior living community such as Baxter Senior Living here in Anchorage, Alaska, our care providers are available to help with their mental health needs during the voluntary quarantine. Should your loved one fall ill during the COVID-9 pandemic, your Anchorage assisted living facility staff is available to ensure they have access to and receive any needed medical care. These are indeed challenging times. Feelings of anxiety and fear are running high, and quarantine measures add a heightened level of frustration. At Baxter Senior Living, we care about the mental health of your loved one and are happy to do whatever we can to help them through these trying times.