The World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Prevention and Control urge the public to practice social distancing, where individuals maintain at least one meter (or three feet) distance away from other people. However, this situation leaves seniors to social isolation, heightening the risk of autoimmune and mental health problems.
What Does Social Distancing Mean?
Public Health officials define social distancing as a means to slow down the spread of coronavirus disease. Preventive measures of social distancing involve closing structures, working from home, not taking public transportation, and canceling events –anything that creates large groups of people.
Impacts of Social Distancing on Seniors
Seniors whose only social contact is outside their homes (like daycare and discussion or worship groups) will find quarantine intolerable. And the same risk goes with seniors who don’t have family friends and those who depend on social care. These groups are vulnerable to increased risks of social isolation and, therefore, must be given importance.
If not treated immediately, isolation can impact a senior’s health negatively. Some of these consequences include the following:
1. Leads to depression and anxiety
Evidence pointed out that social isolation is directly linked with depression and anxiety, along with impaired executive function and decline cognitive memory. Depression is not a normal part of the aging process and, yet, considered a common problem among aging adults.
Dealing with a serious illness, in addition to the pandemic outbreak, causes older people to feel sad and anxious. Seniors who spent most of their time in support groups will have a certain period of adjustment. As a family member, you need to know that transition isn’t always easy; seniors need enough time to regain their emotional balance.
2. Disrupts sleeping patterns
Once anxiety kicks in, seniors suffer from disrupted sleeping patterns. Depressed seniors appear to be tired and feel irritable all day, leading to a troubled sleeping. Research reveals that sleep disruption has short- and long- term health consequences in the older age group.
Since sleep plays a critical role in keeping one’s proper brain function, any interruption can cause deficits in quantity and quality of sleep. Although medications influence the sleeping pattern, researchers argue that an individual’s environment (like the coronavirus crisis) can stimulate disrupted sleeping patterns. If this continues, seniors may be at risk of a weakened immune system.
3. Weakens the immune system
In addition to depression and anxiety, a study revealed that social isolation triggers risk similar to obesity, smoking, and physical inactivity. These factors are related to senior’s immune system, an important determinant in fighting the coronavirus disease.
Loneliness and isolation are different concepts, but both are related to one another. Regardless of the case, social isolation increases stress signals, which diversely affects one’s immunity. Keep in mind that seniors being lonely don’t make them miserable alone; it knocks down their immune system and reduces their quality of life.
4. Increases levels of stress hormones
Lastly, social isolation puts seniors at risk of heightened coronavirus anxiety. Chronic stress is considered a major risk factor for psychiatric disorders, such as depression and anxiety. Increased levels of stress hormones can provoke mental health problems, eating disorders, obesity, and personality disturbances.
The stress of change influences seniors in terms of aching to be seen, heard, and acknowledged in the middle of the situation. And with social isolation, seniors find themselves being incapable of belonging to a group.
Ways to Prevent Social Isolation
To address the negative impacts of social isolation to seniors, family members must give a helping hand. The following activities help seniors reduce the feelings of isolation amidst the pandemic outbreak:
1. Stay connected
Being socially active doesn’t only cater to physical contact or interaction, as it works in a virtual connection as well.
Teaching your senior loved ones how to create a social media profile is aa great way for them to start. Also, the instructing process serves as a bonding moment between you and your aging parent. With most of the people resorting to telecommuting, it’s no surprise that seniors can contact their friends remotely, via email, chat, text, or even video call.
Aside from contacting friends online, they can join online discussion groups that share similar interests with them. There are also support groups online that provide mental health benefits to seniors.
Technology has an array of benefits for all ages. Once seniors know how to use search engines, they can look for online services that will give them convenience in terms of shopping for medications, food supplies, or home necessities.
2. Practice calming techniques
Aside from social activities online, seniors can ease their coronavirus depression and anxiety through calming techniques. Medical institutions and experts believe meditations have a direct, positive impact on seniors. Examples of meditation include Tai Chi, Controlled Breathing, and Yoga classes. If a senior doesn’t know how to start, several online resources (like YouTube videos) can teach them how to meditate.
Meditation is a mind-body connection activity that delivers a positive approach in helping seniors deal with coronavirus anxiety. Benefits include a strong immune system, normal blood pressure, mitigated stress, fewer cortisol levels, and improved emotional health.
3. Find ways to laugh
The saying “laughter is the best medicine” works in all ages. Providing a fun game for seniors helps in enhancing their mental and physical health. In fact, social laughter increases a senior’s endorphins (a medical term referred to as the “feel good” hormones). These endorphins allow seniors to feel less pain, especially when they suffer from a chronic illness.
Laughing also improves senior’s mood and emotion, reduces unwanted stress, and brings calmness. Examples of fun-filled, entertaining activities that will surely create a good laugh at home involve Bingo, chess, Jigsaw puzzles, charade, word puzzles, and many more.
Oasis Adult Day Center promises to deliver quality resources to give you the latest information about the pandemic outbreak. Our community continues to provide blogs catering to wellness tips to keep your mind and body healthy.