In the midst of COVID-19, an overwhelming rise in reported cases of anxiety, depression, and feelings of loneliness have been observed. Even prior to COVID-19, 43% of individuals ages 65+ reported subjective feelings of isolation. Fear of contracting the virus, losing loved ones to the illness, self-quarantine, and worry over shortage of basic needs can precipitate mental illness in older adults without any psychiatric history or exacerbate symptoms in those with a pre-existing one. During these unprecedented times, what are some ways older adults can protect their mental health?
• Stay connected. Make time to talk with friends and family, either by phone or video-chat platforms like Skype and FaceTime. Children, grandchildren, and friends can help by initiating contact, sharing photos/videos, or links to engaging online resources.
• Get active. We are more vulnerable to a sedentary lifestyle in the context of COVID-19. Making a conscious effort to exercise is paramount for overall health. Exercise is associated with better sleep, more energy, and better coping with stress (among a variety of other beneficial health effects). Identify an exercise activity that is enjoyable. There are a variety of creative ways to do this in the context of the pandemic (including via virtual classes).
• Set small goals daily. Setting small, easily attainable goals increases your chances of achieving them. In turn, these nuggets of achievement can boost confidence and increase motivation to expand on these goals. When identifying goals, think S.M.A.R.T. – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.
Tele-Mental Health is a great option to access a mental health provider. If you or a loved one feel overwhelmed, consider calling a Crisis Hot Line 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or 911.
During these challenging times, we are reminded that the population most at risk happens to also be our toughest. Research on aging suggests that older adults are, in fact, more resilient than their younger counterparts – this is attributed to more life experience, better problem-solving skills, and more developed emotional regulation. With this in mind, it still “takes a village” to support each other during challenging times. Encourage your loved ones to employ healthy coping skills. When you cope with stress in a healthy way you empower yourself, the people you care about, and your community to become stronger.
By Natalie Do, PhD
Natalie Do, PhD, is a neuropsychology post-doctoral fellow at Pacific Brain Health Center, Pacific Neuroscience Institute. Under the mentorship of expert clinical neuropsychologist, Dr. Stella Panos, Dr. Do conducts neurocognitive assessments for older adults in the context of neurobehavioral health issues due to various neurological illnesses and age-related neurodegenerative disorders. PacificBrainHealth.org | 310-582-7641.