While loneliness and isolation are often areas of concern for older Australians’ wellbeing, the social distancing restrictions are likely to have had a further negative impact.
According to research, a lack of social connection can carry health risks equivalent to other high risk behaviours such as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Supporting seniors’ mental health and wellbeing doesn’t need to be set aside while we keep our distance for safety.
The impact of isolation on older Australians
Isolation and loneliness can have a profound impact on every aspect of the health and wellbeing of the elderly, including physical health, mental health and emotional wellbeing. Loneliness can manifest in many ways including depression, anxiety, tiredness, sleep problems, loss of appetite, substance use and body aches.
Pre-existing health conditions can worsen or thoughts of self-harm can arise. The news is continually highlighting that older people have the highest risk of severe illness or death from contracting COVID-19, which is likely to cause distress for many in that category.
With this in mind, it is more important than ever to monitor the wellbeing of the elderly, whether they are individuals in your care as an aged care professional, or your own family and friends.
Providing support for senior mental health and wellbeing
While visitation may be now possible, we still need to practice a degree of social distancing. There are still a variety of other ways we can support the wellbeing of the seniors in our lives without breaching any guidelines or putting health at risk.
Set up routines
Routines can help to alleviate feelings of depression and anxiety, so help the older individuals around you set up schedules that work for them. This can incorporate hobbies, phone calls, movement, practicing mindfulness and more. Include a set time or day to have a chat and check-in with the wellbeing of elderly individuals so that they know that opportunity is coming up to talk to someone about what they’re experiencing.
While video conferencing may come naturally to many of us, for seniors in our communities it could be quite new and seem impossible to get up and running. A little support with getting their technology online and ready to go can help them stay in contact with loved ones and provide much-needed interaction during these times of increased isolation.
With so much time to think and quite a lot of negative or scary information coming in, escaping into some fiction can be a welcome break. Distraction can often be a useful tool for calming the mind or reducing feelings of depression. Television shows can also provide an escape when we need it, and the same goes for books. Help older Australians in your care to find a show or book that they enjoy; audiobooks are another option that could be useful. Ask around other aged care facilities for recommendations or even create a library of DVDs and books for residents to borrow from.
Seek shared experiences
Sharing experiences with others doesn’t need to be in person. Even watching online classes can feel like a connected activity. Some families have taken to watching shows at the same time or even doing so on a call to enjoy the activity together.
Know where to reach out
When times get tough, there are many resources available for the elderly to reach out and access support for their mental health and wellbeing. We have compiled some useful wellbeing resources here for those in aged care to recommend and use.
For more ways on how to support mental health and wellbeing for older individuals, read about our tips for staying connected with the elderly.
While you continue supporting the elderly, Selmar is here to support the aged care industry. If you have any questions, please contact us.