The current COVID-19 outbreak has had a significant impact on everyone’s mental health. While the coronavirus pandemic has been widespread, older people, and those with underlying medical conditions like high blood pressure, asthma, heart problems or diabetes, are more vulnerable to becoming severely ill. The fact that the virus poses a heightened risk in the case of elderly persons can have a significant impact on their mental health.
We asked neuropsychologist Tanvi Mallya, of Tanvi Mallya’s ElderCare Services, some frequently asked questions (FAQs) on geriatric mental health and care during COVID-19.
What can we do to assist elders with anxiety about the current situation?
Most elderly persons are aware that they are the most vulnerable population to COVID-19, and constantly watching the news can heighten their anxiety. It is helpful to discuss other positive topics with them that don’t entirely revolve around the pandemic. If you do happen to talk to them about COVID-19, or if they are particularly stressed, try highlighting more reassuring pieces of correct information for them.
I have aged parents whose routine revolves around the community they’ve built around themselves. They find themselves without their main source of emotional support during this lockdown. How can I help them cope?
One way to help elders at a time like this is by trying to move their socialization activities online as much as possible. While the thought of migrating our daily lives online comes automatically to us, it doesn't to them—helping them shift different aspects of their life online can help them cope. For example, if they see friends at a certain time everyday maybe they can call or video call them instead. If they have activities like yoga or cognitive therapy, find ways to move those online as well. You and other family members can take turns calling or video calling them to ensure they aren't socially isolated.
What are self-care tips that elders can follow at a time like this?
Moving as much of their routine online as possible helps maintain a sense of normalcy.
Calling and talking to friends and family they meet daily.
Avoiding over-consumption of news, and only watching news for a fixed time, at a particular duration, each day. The news right now can be overwhelming, and can trigger anxiety.
Engaging themselves in chores within the house.
Using the time to explore their other interests like art, music, reading, or acquainting themselves with technology.
Many elders live by themselves. How do we help them deal with loneliness?
Take turns with family and friends to call them frequently.
Engage them in conversations over phone calls for at least 30-60 minutes each.
Discuss a variety of topics with them—these could include incidents from their younger days, or recipes they are familiar with.
You could also organise a group video with other members of your family and do an activity like cooking or painting together, to foster a sense of togetherness
Many people don’t have their regular domestic help coming in. Caregivers have to balance working from home, caring for the elderly, and managing household chores. What self-care tips can they follow to cope?
It is important to recognize that caregiving at this time doesn't just involve physical labour, but also cognitive and emotional labour. This can be very exhausting.
If space is a constraint, the caregiver can engage the elderly person in watching a movie, or any activity they enjoy, to get some time for themselves.
This 'alone time' can be used to engage in self-care activities like exercising or painting.
Time management and planning of daily activities.
Reaching out to therapists or friends for support.