Even for the healthiest and strongest among us, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a huge psychological toll. As the Washington Post reports, nearly half of Americans believe the coronavirus crisis is negatively affecting their mental health, also evidenced by a federal emotional distress hotline experiencing a 1000-percent uptick in calls during the month of April.
For the aging, who are considered at-risk in general, and many of whom have pre-existing conditions, the psychological stress can be even more acute. For some, it may feel like they are helpless, basically “sitting ducks” waiting alone in their homes or nursing care centers for a mysterious killer to attack. Of course, that’s not necessarily the case; there is much we can do to protect our seniors from this virus. But that fact doesn’t always lessen the fear, stress, or anxiety they’re likely to feel. What can you do to help your aging loved one cope with the stress and feel more protected during this time?
Check In More Frequently
If you’re loved one lives alone and you’re not quarantining with them, you could be endangering their health by visiting in person right now. But you can call them or video chat with them—daily if need be. One of the first lines of defense in combating pandemic-related anxiety may be to make your loved one feel less alone. Call frequently and ask how they’re doing. Ask specifically about their emotional/mental state, not just how they’re doing physically.
Listen to Them
Negative emotions are often processed by talking through them. When you’re talking with a senior at risk, make sure you’re “in the moment” with them. Take the time to listen, even if they repeat themselves frequently, and even if you’ve heard the story a hundred times. It’s not so much what is being said as the act of talking that may help your loved one release the stress—and more importantly, being heard. You may not be a licensed counselor, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take the time to listen.
Schedule Teletherapy, if Necessary
In times like these, it’s not uncommon for the anxiety levels to become unmanageable. If your loved one is showing symptoms of acute stress, depression, PTSD, inordinate fear, etc.—and if talking it through doesn’t seem to alleviate the problem—it may be time to get a therapist involved. The great news is that many therapists are doing sessions via phone or video (teletherapy) right now so their patients don’t have to leave home. Ask your loved one’s healthcare provider for a referral, if need be.
These times are challenging for all of us, and they can be especially so for at-risk seniors—but in the midst of it, remember that this season is temporary, and remind your loved ones of that fact. Be patient, be present, and be proactive, and you’ll be a much-needed source of support.