Timeless January-March 2022 - Page 25

MENTAL HEALTH

Depression in older adults and the effects of COVID-19

By JoAnna Tucker Stewart , LMSW Guest Columnist
As the coronavirus disease 2019 ( COVID-19 ) began to spread in the US in early 2020 , older adults experienced disproportionately greater adverse effects from the pandemic including more severe complications , higher mortality , concerns about disruptions to their daily routines and access to care , difficulty in adapting to technologies like telemedicine , and concerns that isolation would exacerbate existing mental health conditions . Social distancing can lead to a disruption of essential care and support for older per-sons .
Social distancing is crucial but needs to be accompanied by social support measures and targeted care for older persons . Common sources of stress for everyone during pandemics include a drop
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in meaningful activities and social engagement . All of these stress points are heightened for seniors .
Older adults experienced loneliness , as they were isolated from others . As the pandemic has gone on much longer than expected , these feelings became more profound . Although many older adults still expressed outward resilience , others showed new signs of depression like low energy , decreased appetite , lack of motivation , and feelings of sadness . Loved ones of older adults with depression can take steps to support them . Here are some things that you can do .
1 ) Recognize that older adults may not reveal feelings of depression . Most seniors have lived through loss , economic depressions , and perhaps even war . Ask instead about eating , sleeping , and moods to uncover changes that may signal depression .
2 ) Develop a support system . Get others involved in the senior ’ s life . Recruit family members and friends to coordinate check-ins . If you know an older person on your block whose risk may be elevated by a health condition , call them and see if they need anything when you are going to the store .
3 ) Avoid false reassurance . If a senior expresses negative feeling , avoid the impulse to say everything is fine .
4 ) Help prepare meals . Meal preparation , in-person , if possible , is one way to provide companionship . It also promotes healthy eating , which is important when older adults experience low appetite . Making meals and delivering them also gives the senior one less thing to think about , and may help encourage eating and prevent weight loss .
5 ) Participate in activities they enjoy . Ask the senior what they like to do and arrange an outing . Media is a great escape , and many seniors can exercise their minds by subsequently having engaging conversations with others about books and movies . For some variety , suggest that they listen to audio books .
6 ) Call or send care packages . When it is not possible to visit , regular phone calls can fill the gap . Send care packages in the mail with cards , family photos , and letters filled with family news . Taking a few extra minutes out of your day for a phone call or to write a letter could make a world of difference .
7 ) Offer help with technology . Virtual check-ins with family , friends , and medical providers can help others to recognize symptoms of depression . It is also an important way to combat feelings of isolation . Many older adults don ’ t like technology , but may use online tools more with some technical support and guidance . Most group activities and communal dining have also been limited at nursing homes and long-term care facilities . Changes such as these increase the need for social interaction for seniors . Facetime , Skype calls , or other virtual visits that you share can prove invaluable .
8 ) Provide assistance with medical appointments . Seeing a doctor to assess overall health is critical for older adults experiencing depression . Make it easier on them to schedule and attend medical visits . Book the appointment , drive them to the clinic , or help them log on for an online consultation .
9 ) Respect individual preferences . Your loved one may not want to change their routine or participate in new activities . Psychiatrist and Therapist who specializes in older adults can help .
10 ) Encourage them to seek help . Work with a medical provider to offer that assistance or encourage the senior to ask about it during their next doctor ’ s visit .
• JoAnna Tucker Stewart is a licensed master social worker who is a therapist with Horizons Geri Psych . www . meridianstar . com
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