These are undoubtedly extraordinary and challenging times for Alaska seniors. The global nature of the COVID-19 pandemic has put strains on educational systems, financial systems, and healthcare systems all over the world. As global cases of COVID-19, more commonly known as coronavirus or novel coronavirus, surpass two million with more than seven hundred thousand here in the United States concern and fear are gripping many people.
In addition to concerns about illness and economics, there is also isolation and loneliness to consider. Time and studies have shown the most effective way to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus is social distancing. This means seniors, whether living in senior living facilities such as Baxter Senior Living here in Anchorage, Alaska, or on their own, are under stricter visitation guidelines, and spending significantly reduced time with others. Regardless of their living situation, however, we must consider how their mental health may be impacted and ways to maintain good mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What Is Senior Mental Health?
Maintaining your mental health to cope with COVID-19 anxiety is vital to your overall health and wellbeing. This becomes even more vital as we age, and our living situations change. What are some of the characteristics of mental health, and how can our mental health be negatively impacted?
In short, mental health is how we perceive our overall psychological and emotional wellbeing. If one or the other is in flux or impacted negatively, our health, both psychological and physical, may suffer. Good mental health helps us to cope with stress, disappointment, and grief. All of which are more prevalent than ever these days. It doesn’t mean we do not feel or experience these feelings, but it helps us to cope better and recover from the experiences which cause them. There is ample research that shows mental health can be negatively impacted by social isolation and loneliness-all of which are of concern for seniors during times of social isolation and potential quarantine. Chronic loneliness can lead to depression and anxiety.
Social Distance and COVID-19
So, what is social distancing? Social distancing is the idea that when people remain six feet apart while in public settings, they are less likely to be exposed to the vicus. COVID-19 is spread through respiration and activities associated with breathing. This includes coughing, sneezing, and otherwise touching surfaces with contaminated hands. The COVID-19 virus can live for several days on surfaces, so it is reasonable to believe the virus could be contracted simply by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching your face.
We also know based on updated information for the Centers for Disease Control, that people may have the virus not exhibit any symptoms. This means it is essential that everyone follows safe social distancing and stay at home protocols to slow and eventually stop the spread of the virus. Many assisted, and senior living communities across the country are also implementing their own safety protocols for their residents to ensure their safety. Unfortunately, people over the age of sixty-five are more susceptible to contracting COVID-19 due to reduced lung function and other disease processes. Some senior living communities are enforcing social distancing by not allowing outside visitors (including family) into the community until the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided. Others are limiting travel and enforcing mandatory quarantine for those who have traveled outside of the community. All of this is being implemented in hopes of minimizing the chances of spreading the virus to others within the community living environment.
Isolation and Mental Stimulation
Social stimulation remains as essential as ever for seniors, even during these strange times when social distancing is critical to maintain health and safety. Indeed, this is not the first pandemic that has spread globally. It is also true that this is not the first time staying inside and staying home has been beneficial to health and safety. However, this is one of the first times that we have had the benefits of technology to help keep people of all ages mentally and emotionally stimulated.
Connecting Seniors Through Technology
Technology can be an unfamiliar and frightening territory for many seniors. From toddlers to teenagers, our younger generations grew up with technology in their hands. iPads are now used in schools across the United States, starting in elementary school as educational tools. It is not abnormal to see kids under the age of ten wandering around with a smartphone in their hands, and many know how to use them better than their adult family members. Kids, adolescents, and teens have all been using online communication and social media functions as a way to stay in touch with friends since they were allowed to put their fingers on a keyboard. Whether a blessing or curse, this has made isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic a little easier for younger generations to tolerate, although they do have their fair share of challenges as well.
For many seniors, the situation is not at all similar. The internet, social media apps, smartphones, and tablets or iPads can all be alien things, but they can be a saving grace during times of increased and involuntary loneliness. To take advantage of many social media apps, a smartphone is generally required; however, a laptop or iPad will also serve the purpose. If your loved one is unfamiliar with how to use their device or how to log onto some of the more familiar social media apps described below, the staff at Baxter Senior Living will be more than happy to help them learn how. Here are some of the more popular options seniors can use to stay connected to family, friends, and social groups while remaining safe at home.
Facebook is the largest social networking platform in the world and an excellent way to stay connected with friends and family no matter where they are located. Facebook allows the sharing of ideas, news articles, thoughts, photos, and more. People can even follow individual “pages,” which share common ideas and interests such as baking groups, fitness groups, or knitting groups. Facebook is free to use, which is a small added comfort during times such as these where finances can be a concern to everyone.
Facetime is a video and audio calling app which is Apple-based. For non-Mac users, Skype works the same way. There is also Zoom and other group communication apps, but Facetime and Skype tend to be the easiest to navigate. Facetime or skype requires the use of a smartphone, laptop, iPad, or tablet. Facetime and Skype allow you to talk with and see the faces of your loved ones. This can be immensely reassuring when seniors (and everyone else) are being asked to isolate themselves away from their loved ones. It helps to reassure everyone that each other is healthy and safe and allows people to “be with” their loved ones even if they can’t be in the same room for now.
No, it isn’t video-friendly, but email is still a great form of communication. Texting is also an option if you are looking for instant communication options with your grandkids. Not to mention, they might be pretty impressed if Grandma or Grandpa learn to text and send photos via their smartphones!
Other Stimulating Technology Related Activates
Direct communication such as Skype and FaceTime are great ways to stay in touch and close to those we care about when we aren’t able to be with them. There are also other ways you can spend time with people online. Examples of these include:
There are many word and card games online that you can play with your friends and loved ones. Examples include Words with Friends and Yahtzee. There are also online bingo groups and other games which have been designed with groups of family and friends in mind. If you are unable to Facetime or Skype, but still want to get in touch, consider playing a game. Its like family game night just a little different.
The internet has made travel from your chair possible. Many places that have been forced to close due to the pandemic such as theme parks, museums, and libraries have brought their entertainment online. You can take tours, ride rides and check out books and magazines all from the comfort of your own home. These experiences can help you stay connected to the outside world, even if going outside isn’t as safe right now as we wish it were.
How Caregivers Can Help Alaska Seniors Stay Engaged
The caregivers at Baxter Senior living are in a unique position to help their residents successfully facilitate some of the suggestions outlined above. Alaska Seniors caregivers can help alleviate the fears and anxiety about using technology that some seniors may feel. Caregivers can help Alaska seniors learn how to use a smartphone, laptop, or tablet if these are devices the seniors are not familiar with. Caregivers can also show seniors how to use the social media apps available to them through these devices.
Being alone during the COVID-19 pandemic does not mean communication with loved ones needs to stop resulting in potential impacts on your mental and physical health. Although these times are challenging, Alaska seniors can still remain active, communicate with their family and friends, and even attend social group activities through online apps such as Zoom, YouTube, and Skype. If these are things your loved one is unfamiliar with, contact the staff at Baxter Senior Living here in Anchorage. We are here to help alleviate concerns and help your loved one embrace a healthy mindset as they learn how beneficial technology can be during these challenging times.