Promoting Mental Health for Seniors During a Pandemic
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    During this extraordinary time of isolation and stress, mental health has become an important topic to discuss. Seniors are under stricter visitation guidelines depending on what state they live in, and whether they are at home or in senior living. Regardless of your living situation, maintaining good mental health is vital to your overall health.

    You may be asking, “what is mental health?” Let’s look at some of the characteristics of mental health and what can negatively affect it:

    • Mental health is our perception of psychological and emotional well-being.
    • Good mental health helps us cope with stress, disappointment, and grief. It doesn’t mean that we don’t experience these feelings. But it does mean that we can cope and recover.
    • Research has shown that mental health can be adversely affected by social isolation and loneliness. Loneliness can contribute to depression and anxiety.

    Lack of social engagement can lead to increased problems with thinking and memory. It can also cause a worsening of medical problems.

    elderly man thinking

    The Importance of Social Distancing During COVID-19

    Social distancing is the idea that when people stay apart (6 feet) they are less likely to be exposed to the virus. COVID-19 is spread through respiration. This includes coughing, sneezing, or otherwise touching surfaces where the virus lives for several days. The Centers for Disease Control has the most updated information on the virus and recommended precautions during the pandemic.

    We now know that some people may have the virus but may not have any symptoms, which means that everyone must follow safe hygiene protocols. Many assisted living communities across the country are requiring a mandatory 14-day quarantine for anyone who leaves the community. This would minimize their chances of passing the virus to someone else if they are confined to their apartment or room.

    How to Keep Seniors Mentally Stimulated

    Now that we have a better understanding of the importance of staying mentally and socially stimulated, let's look at some activities to make this possible. This will require ingenuity and a little courage too!

    Fun Ways to Connect with Technology

    Technology can be unfamiliar and frightening territory for many seniors. But what better time to learn than now? To take advantage of the many social platforms, it will require you to get a smartphone, laptop, or iPad. Here are some of the more popular options for staying connected with technology:

    • Facebook. Facebook is the largest social networking platform in the world, and with good reason. Using Facebook is a good way to stay connected with friends and family. You can share ideas, repost articles of interest, post photos, and more. You can even follow news outlets to get up to the minute information.
    • Facetime. Facetime is a video and audio calling service. You will need an iPhone, laptop or iPad to use it. Like Facebook, it is free. Seeing your children or grandchildren can be immensely reassuring and fun.
    • Email. Yes, good old fashion email is still a great way to communicate with people. If you really want to impress your grandkids, learn to text.
    senior holding a phone

    Stimulating Mental Activities

    Being alone can make it tough to stay mentally engaged, but mental engagement is more important than ever if you are without a spouse or other person to be with. Consider these options.

    • Games. Word and card games can keep your mind active. Consider jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, and Sudoku. Don’t forget about online games like solitaire, Words with Friends, and hundreds of others.
    • Using the internet to travel. It is now possible to travel right from your chair. Visit museums, other countries or cities. Check out Travel and Leisure’s 12 Famous Museum Tours. Here is another collection of museums and other travel sites including some National Parks. And if you haven’t tried Google Earth, you must give it a try. Fly to any part of the world that appeals to you and before you know it, hours have passed by. You can do this from your smartphone, computer or iPad.
    • Reading. Reading is an under appreciated activity. It can stimulate the imagination and take you to places you have never been to before. Use a kindle or the good old fashion library.
    • Writing. If you can write, try it out. Whether it is journaling or a story you have been burning to tell, now might be the time to do it. Perhaps this is a good time to write your personal history for your children and grandchildren.
    • Humor. Although humor may not seem like a mentally stimulating activity, it is a mentally healthy one. Watch movies or funny television shows. Subscribe to Netflix or Hulu to expand your options and view from the comfort and safety of your home.
    senior looking at photos

    How Caregivers Can Help Seniors Stay Engaged

    Caregivers are in a unique position to help facilitate and enhance the suggestions we have outlined here. To take it one step further, they can help make many of these activities possible. Let’s look at how caregivers can provide invaluable support in keeping seniors engaged.

    • Help with technology. Caregivers can teach seniors how to use a smartphone, laptop or iPad in the privacy of their home. It can take time to become comfortable and familiar with technology if you have never used it before. Caregivers can show seniors how to use social media apps to maximize their potential to bring people together.
    • Companionship. Caregivers can fill that vital gap of socialization. Whether it is talking about family, life history, current events, or feelings. Conversation helps people feel connected and appreciated. It stimulates the brain in positive and meaningful ways.
    • Playing games. Having someone to play games with opens up a whole new world of possibilities. These could be card games, board games, sharing a puzzle, or learning online activities that are mentally stimulating.

    Being alone during the COVID-19 pandemic does not mean your mental health has to suffer. By attending to your mental and physical health, you can thrive under these conditions. A caregiver can be an enormous help during these difficult times.

    Resources:

    Coronavirus 2019 CDC

    Risks of Social Isolation

    About the Author(s)

    Amanda Lambert is the owner and president of Lambert Care Management, LLC which provides care management for older and disabled adults. She is the co-author of, Aging with Care: Your Guide to Hiring and Managing Caregivers at Home (Rowman and Littlefield, 2018). She has worked for over 20 years in the senior-related industry including mental health, marketing and guardianship. She has a passion for topics related to health, wellness and resilience as we age.

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