The current situation around the coronavirus is worrying for many people and in particular for the elderly who are receiving messages that they find extremely alarming—primarily that they are at enhanced risk from the virus. You’d be forgiven for thinking the virus is a death sentence in older people when it is not. The fear and anxiety it has created is, however, in itself a major potential mental health problem.
Elders are susceptible to mental health issues and reporting of mental health difficulties can be significantly underreported as well. At this time, there is a significant risk of the worsening of these conditions and the development of them in people who previously didn’t display symptoms. The types of issues we might see are anxiety, depression, cognitive decline in dementia conditions, and increase in alcohol abuse.
How to Manage the Mental Health Impacts of Self-Isolation for Yourself With Key Behaviors and Activities
- Establish structure and routine: The loss of structure and routine is already identified as a major mental health issue for older people and this can be worsened at this time. If you are moving to being “self-isolated” to protect yourself from infection, then it’s important to establish a new routine as fast as possible. The first thing on your mental health shopping list is a weekly planner; ensure you have a routine about bed and waking times, food, “work” activity, social connections via phone or computer, catching up on news, and getting outside to exercise.
- Remain cognitively active: For those with dementia, cognitive exercise is particularly beneficial. Ensure a good supply of board games and word games, investigate online support groups for dementia sufferers, and get engaged in cooking, gardening, housework, playing music, etc.
- Exercise: Stay active; the social distancing measures still allow you to go outside, just be careful about contact with others. Go for regular walks. Do home gym sessions using books as weights. Use the good old army calisthenics. Practice your yoga—if you don’t do it yet, now is a very good time to learn. Many personal trainers are offering online sessions right now.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): Learn CBT techniques online to improve your mental health toolkit. Many online resources exist. In the United Kingdom, a good resource to start with is the NHS website. You could also order Mind Over Mood, which is a comprehensive self-help resource for CBT.
- Practice meditation: Ensure you meditate regularly, and if you don’t do mindfulness yet, then now is the time to learn. There are a lot of apps available to learn, one of which is Headspace. Or do a search on YouTube; there are many free, very helpful resources for you.
- Stop or manage drinking: Alcohol is not going to help. Alcohol abuse in elders is a significant problem and abuse of alcohol significantly contributes to mental health problems.