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For Seniors, COVID-19 Sets Off A Pandemic Of Despair

Judith Graham

As states loosen up coronavirus restrictions, older adults are suggested, typically, to maintain sheltering in place. But for some, the burden of isolation and uncertainty is changing into arduous to bear.

This “stay at home awhile longer” recommendation acknowledges that older adults usually tend to grow to be critically in poor health and die if contaminated with the virus. At highest danger are seniors with underlying medical circumstances equivalent to coronary heart, lung or autoimmune ailments.

Yet after two months at house, many wish to exit into the world once more. It is discouraging for them to see individuals of different ages resume actions. They really feel excluded. Still, they wish to be protected.

“It’s been really lonely,” mentioned Kathleen Koenen, 77, who moved to Atlanta in July after promoting her home in South Carolina. She’s residing in a 16th-floor condo whereas ready to maneuver right into a senior housing group, which has had circumstances of COVID-19.

“I had thought that would be a new community for me, but everyone there is isolated,” Koenen mentioned. “Wherever we go, we’re isolated in this situation. And the longer it goes on, the harder it becomes.”

(Georgia residents age 65 and older are required to shelter in place by means of June 12, together with different susceptible populations.)

Her daughter, Karestan Koenen, is a professor of psychiatric epidemiology at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. During a Facebook Live occasion this month, she mentioned her mom had felt in March and April that “everyone was in [this crisis] together.” But now, that sense of communality has disappeared.

Making it worse, some seniors worry that their lives could also be seen as expendable within the rush to reopen the nation.

“[Older adults] are wondering if their lives are going to end shortly for reasons out of their control,” mentioned Dr. Linda Fried, dean of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, in a university publication. “They’re wondering if they’ll be able to get the care they need. And most profoundly, they’re wondering if they are going to be cast out of society. If their lives have value.”

On the optimistic facet, resilience is widespread on this age group. Virtually all older adults have identified adversity and loss; many have a “this too shall pass” angle. And research confirms that they are usually adept at regulating their reactions to demanding life occasions — a helpful talent on this pandemic.

“If anything, I’ve seen a very strong will to live and acceptance of whatever one’s fate might be,” mentioned Dr. Marc Agronin, a geriatric psychiatrist and vice chairman of behavioral well being at Miami Jewish Health, a 20-acre campus with impartial residing, assisted residing, nursing house care and different providers.

Several occasions per week, psychologists, nurses and social staff are calling residents on the campus, doing temporary psychological well being checks and referring anybody who wants assist for follow-up consideration. There’s “a lot of loneliness,” Agronin mentioned, however many seniors are “already habituated to being alone or are doing OK with contact [only] from staff.”

Still, “if this goes on much longer,” he mentioned, “I think we’ll start to see less engagement, more withdrawal, more isolation — a greater toll of disconnection.”

Erin Cassidy-Eagle, a scientific affiliate professor of psychiatry at Stanford University, shares that concern.

From mid-March to mid-April, all her conversations with older sufferers revolved round a number of questions: “How do we keep from getting COVID-19? How am I going to get my needs met? What’s going to happen to me?”

But extra lately, Cassidy-Eagle mentioned, “older adults have realized the course of being isolated is going to be much longer for them than for everyone else. And sadness, loneliness and some hopelessness have set in.”

She tells of a lady in her 70s who moved into impartial residing in a seamless care group as a result of she wished to construct a robust social community. Since March, actions and group eating have been canceled. The group’s director lately introduced that restrictions would stay till 2021.

“This woman had a tendency to be depressed, but she was doing OK,” Cassidy-Eagle mentioned. “Now she’s incredibly depressed and she feels trapped.”

Especially susceptible throughout this pandemic are older adults who’ve suffered earlier trauma. Dr. Gary Kennedy, director of the division of geriatric psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, has seen this occur to a number of sufferers, together with a Holocaust survivor in her 90s.

This lady lives along with her son, who obtained COVID-19. Then she did as effectively. “It’s like going back to the terror of the [concentration] camp,” Kennedy mentioned, “an agonizing emotional flashback.”

Jennifer Olszewski, an skilled in gerontology at Drexel University, works in three nursing properties within the Philadelphia space. As is true throughout a lot of the nation, no guests are allowed and residents are principally confined to their rooms.

“I’m seeing a lot of patients with pronounced situational depression,” she mentioned — “decreased appetite, decreased energy, a lack of motivation and overall feelings of sadness.”

“If this goes on for months longer, I think we’ll see more people with functional decline, mental health decline and failure to thrive,” Olszewski mentioned.

Some are merely giving up. Anne Sansevero, a geriatric care supervisor in New York City, has a 93-year-old shopper who plunged into despair after her assisted residing facility went on lockdown in mid-March. Antidepressant and anti-anxiety medicines haven’t helped.

“She’s telling her family and her health aides ‘life’s not worth living. Please help me end it,’” Sansevero mentioned. “And she’s stopped eating and getting out of bed.”

The lady’s attentive grownup youngsters are doing all they will to consolation their mom at a distance and are feeling acute anguish.

What will be completed to ease this kind of psychic ache? Kennedy of Montefiore has a number of ideas.

“Don’t try to counter the person’s perception and offer false reassurance. Instead, say, yes, this is bad, no doubt about it. It’s understandable to be angry, to be sad. Then provide a sense of companionship. Tell the person, ‘I can’t change this situation but I can be with you. I’ll call tomorrow or in a few days and check in with you again.’”

“Try to explore what made life worth living before the person started feeling this way,” he mentioned. “Remind them of ways they’ve coped with adversity in the past.”

If somebody is religiously-inclined, encourage them to achieve out to a pastor or a rabbi. “Tell them, I’d like to pray together or read this Bible passage and discuss it,” Kennedy mentioned. “Comforting person-to-person interaction is a very effective form of support.”

Do not rely on older adults to come clean with feeling depressed. “Some people will acknowledge that, yes, they’ve been feeling sad, but others may describe physical symptoms — fatigue, difficulty sleeping, difficulty concentrating,” mentioned Julie Lutz, a geropsychologist and postdoctoral fellow on the University of Rochester.

If somebody has expressed frequent considerations about being a burden to different individuals or has grow to be notably withdrawn, that’s a worrisome signal, Lutz mentioned.

In nursing properties, ask for a referral to a psychologist or social employee, particularly for a liked one who’s recovering from a COVID hospitalization.

“Almost everybody that I’m seeing has some kind of adjustment disorder because their whole worlds have been turned upside down,” mentioned Eleanor Feldman Barbera, an elder care psychologist in New York City. “Talking to a psychologist when they first come in can help put people on a good trajectory.”

The National Alliance on Mental Illness has compiled a COVID-19 data and useful resource information, obtainable at https://www.nami.org/covid-19-guide. The American Psychological Association has created a webpage devoted to this topic and lately wrote about finding local mental health resources. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a 24-hour hotline, 1-800-662-4357. And the nationwide suicide prevention hotline for these in acute misery is 1-800-273-8255.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a nationwide well being coverage information service. It is an editorially impartial program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which isn’t affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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