The senior population aged 65 and older is one of the most vulnerable demographic groups for the novel coronavirus COVID-19.  This pandemic is not only impacting the physical health of older adults, but it is having a significant impact on their mental health. 

Because of the risk of death from COVID-19 in the senior population, friends and family are unable to visit loved ones in nursing homes, assisted living communities, and other congregate living facilities and sometimes even in their private residence.  The required social distancing and isolation necessary to protect the most vulnerable is cutting them off from what is most important for their well-being, social connectivity.  Some of the mental health risks associated with isolation may include depression, anxiety, dementia, schizophrenia, suicide, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Some of the signs and symptoms that indicate isolation that may be affecting a person’s mental health include:

  • Feelings of depression and anxiety
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Passive attitude
  • Poor sleep quality
  • Cognitive decline
  • Altered memory
  • Poor self-care

We can mitigate the impact of social distancing by taking some of the following measures:

  • Offer Physical, Occupational, and Speech Therapy services and/or Wellness programs via telehealth
  • Provide social activities that allow residents to participate from a distance or via Facetime
  • Encourage families to stay in touch via use of video chat apps, telephone calls, and mailing cards, letters, and care packages that include pictures or treats
  • Promote intergenerational connection with younger family members
  • Establish new routines for residents to participate in holidays and special events so they feel included, needed, and engaged
  • Take residents outdoors and help them work on the garden or do some physical outdoor activity that brings joy and a distraction from isolation

We need to stay vigilant and help residents get the help they need so we are not only protecting their physical health, but also their mental health.