Mental health tips for the elderly during COVID-19 pandemic!

I’ve been working with the elderly for the last 15 years now, and it is my passion to help them have a healthier life. During this time, it is paramount to help them get through this phase with ease. Everyone is stressed and overwhelmed right now, understandably so, but please take a moment to think about any elderly around you that might need your help during this time.

Social connection.

This is obvious but crucial! While social distancing has been shown to slow down the spread of the virus, we have to remember that social distancing doesn’t mean social isolation. For a lot of elderly individuals, distance from their families and friends is going to be really isolating and lonely. They might live alone and if families and friends are not allowed to visit them and get close to them, especially if they live in lockdown areas, that might mean not seeing and talking to anybody for days! While this is a temporary situation, the long-term impact of social isolation will be huge, at least on their mental health if not on their physical and brain health. So, keep your distance but check in with them regularly. Send them messages and see if they are doing ok. Get the elderly socially active and involved. If you have elderly parents, call them frequently and let them talk to their grandchildren. Talk to them about something fun and positive rather than the Corona news!

Cognitive engagement.

Many of the elderly used to attend various groups and classes to keep their mind active and also to socialize with others. Now that social gathering is limited, the isolation is not only impacting their social life but also their cognitive functions. This applies to everyone, of course.

If you, or anyone you know, are experiencing social isolation and feel not cognitively engaged through the day, perhaps now it is a time to pick up a new challenge.

Have you ever wanted to learn a language or learn about a topic in science? There are so many resources for learning various activities. If you can’t find it, ask your friends, children, or neighbors, over the phone or via email, to recommend a book or lend you some resources they used for learning Spanish, for instance. Use your resources to get the material you need! Turn on the TV and watch a documentary or listen to a TED talk. Learning a new skill engages different neural pathways and helps you to stay cognitively engaged. But that has to be something that you are interested in and motivated to do!

Physical activity.

Again while social distancing dictates to stay home as much as possible and not to attend exercise classes or gyms, most elderly need their regular exercises to stay mobile. Losing the momentum of attending regular classes or practicing their routines could lead to weakness of muscle tones and physical readiness with long-term consequences for their health. So, if you are self-isolating, try to get online classes and regular exercises suited for your needs. See if you can find exercise physiologists or personal trainers who offer online consultations. If you already have a routine, try to stick to it as much as possible. If you don’t have a routine, try to start with low intensity and some stretches during the day. There are some apps for exercise to do at home too. If none of these options are available, just walk around your backyard or block! Don’t need to stop and chat with anyone while you are out. But move your body daily during this time. Avoid sitting in front of a computer/TV for a long period. Any movement counts! Wash your dishes, do some gardening, clean your closet/desk, move your body while you are cooking, etc. Any movement is better than sedentary positions.

Healthy Diet.

When in self-isolation, it is very important to take care of your mental health as well.

Research has shown a strong link between gut and brain health. So, the way we eat impacts the way we feel.

Be very vigilant about your food! During stressful times like this, it is important to choose healthier snacks and food options. Reduce foods with refined sugar as much as possible. Try to replace sugar and simple carbohydrate with healthier substitutes and complex carbohydrates such as whole-grain foods, fruits, and veggies. Bake yourself a healthy banana bread or carrot cake to satisfy the craving but stick to fruit and veggies as much as possible. I understand that eating fresh produces would be tricky and require several travels to shops, so try to buy frozen fruits and veggies and store them in your freezer. Consider immune-boosting foods such as oily fish, leafy greens, and ginger. Try to stay hydrated and follow general healthy eating habits.

Mental hygiene.

These days it is important to stay informed about the recommendations by the health care professionals and authorities. But unfortunately, there is a lot that we can’t control during this time, except practicing hand hygiene and social distancing. You don’t need to fill your days at home by reading and listening to the news all the time. Turn on the music channel and listen to your favorite music genre. Listen to tracks that bring joy and wonderful memories back. Listen to a scientific talk about dolphins, they are amazing creatures! Don’t let every single conversation be governed by the pandemic topic.

Remember, most people in your generation ( the elderly population I’m referring to) have experienced difficult periods in their lifetimes. You might have experienced war, poverty, drought, financial hardships, losing jobs, and partners.

You’ve got through them and now you’ve got this one too!

It is important to watch for negative and worrying thoughts that creep in during this time. With a positive outlook and the right social distancing strategy, we can get through this. You are not alone on this!

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