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Isolation in a Pandemic

December 16, 2020 | by Signal Wisconsin

When considering how best to offer senior care for the parents and grandparents in your life, please consider the effects of the pandemic. Depression is a common problem among older adults, but it is not a normal part of aging, according to the National Institutes of Health. Life changes that happen as we age, can trigger feelings of stress, sadness, or anxiety. Isolation can be one of these life changes and the pandemic is becoming a source of isolation for many older Americans. 

Older adults may show less obvious symptoms of depression and are less likely to confide their feelings than younger people. In many cases, sadness is not the main symptom. Therefore, even those who see their doctor regularly may not be accurately diagnosed. Clinical depression should be treated by a health professional, but for the purposes of this post, we will speak to more generalized feelings of loneliness, isolation and feeling down. 

Older people who are depressed may be more tired, have trouble sleeping, or seem irritable. They may have confusion or attention problems that could be misdiagnosed as dementia-related diseases. Underlying conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure and others may exacerbate the symptoms. Medications taken for the underlying conditions may contribute to depression either directly or as a side effect. 

Many older adults can take advantage of programs offered by their local senior centers, independent living facilities and other community resources to gather with others and feel a sense of community. While many of these events were cancelled due to the pandemic, there were some opportunities for outdoor events while the weather permitted. Now that winter is setting in, and the first snowstorms are arriving, outdoor events are no longer an option. 

Helping your loved ones cope with the isolation caused by the onset of winter is challenging but it can be done effectively with some planning. If the seniors in your life have access to computers and are technologically capable, zoom calls and other video options are a great way to connect. Unfortunately, many seniors are not as keen on their devices as their kids and grandkids. Face Time for I-Phone and Duo for Android are effective substitutes that don’t require as much technical skill to operate. 

Some seniors will have only a land line, however. Setting up a regular phone call with the seniors in your life is an excellent way to bring a sense of community to an isolated senior. Select a time that is convenient for your senior and other family members. Grandparents are always happy to get an update on their grandkids’ activities, education, and development. Even a 20-minute call once a week can fight off isolation both through the call itself and the anticipation of the call in the lead-up. 

Another option is in-home care. Having a trained, skilled caregiver spend a few hours a day (properly masked, of course) with the senior in your life can offer powerful connection that fight off isolation.  For $500-600 per week, you could have 20 hours of caregiving. 

If your seniors live in a place with a balcony, stopping by to offer Christmas carols with your kids from an appropriate distance would be another option, but may not be something you can do regularly. 

Whatever plan you choose, make it a priority to fight the isolation that will occur this winter.