Social isolation in older adults is a major public health issue and affects their quality of life.
Social relationships play an important role in the health and well-being of humans.(1)The negative effects of social isolation and low social connectivity are linked with the health risks of high blood pressure, physical inactivity and obesity.(2)
Older adults are more vulnerable to social isolation because of the age-related role transitions such as retirement, loss of family, physical changes, and societal views i.e. ageism.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the elderly are finding themselves isolated. It is true, social distancing is helpful in reducing the risk of COVID-19 infection, but is also putting people at other health risks.
Researchers have found that social interaction plays an important role in keeping certain regions of the brain healthy.(3)
What is Social Distancing?
Social distancing or physical distancing is a means of keeping a safe space between two individuals.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing is being practiced to prevent sick people from coming in close contact with healthy people. It is done to reduce disease transmission.
Older adults are at a higher risk of catching any infection and are also more prone to suffer from adverse effects of any disease. It is therefore recommended to them to be more precautious. This makes them stay at home and be at a minimal exposure socially. Obviously, they do not want to be alone at home, but it is the only safer option.
Feelings of despair and isolation can lead to anxiety and depression, as well as other health problems. There can also be an aggravation of the current health problems.
Social isolation in seniors is linked with an increase in depression and suicidality. It may as well increase the proinflammatory and decrease anti-viral immune response.(4)
If the elderly are more at risk of COVID-19 infection and have to be safe to prevent themselves from getting it, taking care of their other health issues including mental health is also important.
Social distancing can be tough for everyone, especially for those living away from their family.
How To Help An Elderly Struggling With Anxiety And Depression While Social Distancing?
A pandemic can take a toll on anyone’s life. There can be many emotions one is going through. To top it all, going through this tough phase alone, with no one being there to share the thought and feeling can get very tough for people, especially the elderly.
Depression comes on slowly, with the people even not being aware of it. It does not just bring about changes in mood, but a person also experiences changes in sleep, appetite, concentration, and energy level.This affects health furthermore.
The best way to care for a loved one during such a phase is to be in touch with them. Taking out some time to ask how one is feeling can bring in a huge difference.
If staying away, make sure that you check on them regularly. Enquire about how they are getting food and staying active. Homedeliver the meals or drop in yourself to spend some time with them. This would make them feel, that there is someone to care.
You can also connect via telephone, email, letters, cards, text messages, and video calls.
It is observed that the elderly engage in television as a medium to cope with depressive symptoms and might benefit from this engagement.(5) Make sure there have resources available.
People over the age of 65 years are at a higher risk of complication and death from COVID-19 and social distancing is the means of keeping themselves from catching it.
As being distanced from loved ones and friends can be a toll on their life too, the best we can do is to be connected with them anyhow. There are many technologies available that can help us do so.
If you have an elderly in the house, just keeping them away from any kind of exposure is not a key to prevent them from falling ill. The main thing is to keep them distanced and happy at home.
Early intervention may help prevent both mental and physical decline.