CONSUMER HEALTH

Mental Health Awareness: Older People

The past few months been especially hard on older people. They are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, and at high risk for serious complications, and loneliness, anxiety, and depression (all concerns before the pandemic) can be exacerbated by constraints on their normal routine, such as sheltering in place and social distancing. “We must all find ways to do more to counterbalance the effects of this pandemic on the mental health of older people throughout our community,” says Toni Shy, LCSW, an Englewood Health social worker who practices at Englewood Health Physician Network—Cliffside Park and Harvey R. Gross, MD, PC. “As family members and friends, it is important that we advocate for our loved ones, whether they are in the hospital, home alone, living communally, or in an unsafe or otherwise challenging living situation. And the elderly must also advocate for themselves.”

She adds, “Especially now, as we move forward to the next phase, it is incumbent on each of us to be our brother’s and sister’s keeper. We can all contribute to safeguarding the welfare of those who cannot look after their own welfare.”

Practical Ways to Support the Mental Health of the Older Person:

  • Caretaker seniors: Check in and find out what’s happening with them. Many elderly adults are taking care of a spouse. Their whole life may be wrapped around that person, as well as their caretaking role. What happens if the spouse dies? Recognize how difficult that situation may be for them. The person may be masking their true feelings.
  • Retired people: Be supportive and understanding. Many older people who were still working suddenly find themselves retired. With such a major change in their life’s structure, be watchful. Ask: How are you spending your time? Are you sad? Do you miss work?
  • Grandparents: Be on the lookout for signs of depression. Grandparents may be living with their families and being together constantly can be stressful. If they are living apart, they may be unable to see their grandchildren. While phone calls and video chats are good, they’re not the same as being hugged, kissed, or smiled at in person. If a grandparent who was the daycare provider or go-to babysitter suddenly isn’t, their meaning in life may be reduced or changed.
  • Senior centers: Find ways to combat loneliness and lack of activity. Senior centers provide socialization, a hot meal, exercise programs, and recreation. For many, those seen daily at these centers are like family. With the centers closed, older people at home are missing many enjoyed activities, which are not replaced by watching TV.
  • Healthcare decisions: Take this opportunity to talk about healthcare choices.  Many of us hesitate to talk about things we are afraid will make another person uncomfortable (or make us uncomfortable). Yet often the other person is thinking about the same things. Talking about difficult issues and developing a plan can help to lower your anxiety around them. In most cases, it is better to have thought through major healthcare decisions in advance, to be prepared, and to have a plan. It’s important for both the older person and their adult children. 

Posted June 18, 2020