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Coping With Aging Parents During COVID-19

Taking Care Of Loved Ones In Challenging Times

COVID-19: Mitigating Fear and loneliness

In many cases, our mental health is rooted in stability derived from a routine. Within this routine are the social interactions we take for granted, the projects we derive fulfillment from, and life’s milestones that we can count on looking forward to. With the world in crisis mode, much of this routine has gone by the wayside. Stress and anxiety associated with isolation and the unknown can quickly take over our lives and trigger severe mental health conditions. However, new businesses such as WellQor specialize in the virtual treatment of these needs.

Is your

loved one lonely?

Physical isolation has become commonplace. To protect the physical health of our senior loved ones, many of us have foregone our regular visits, dinner dates, and social activities with Grandma or Grandpa. In this case, it is essential to ensure that our loved ones are not lonely. While being physically isolated from friends and family, seniors need to maintain a sense of connection throughout the process. They need to know that they have someone to reach out to avoid a sense of helplessness. Well established research, and my own experience in the field, has shown that loneliness is associated with a string of physical and mental health issues commonly faced by loved ones. Depression, anxiety, heart disease, high blood pressure, and cognitive decline are just a few conditions often affecting seniors that can be triggered by the distressing feeling of loneliness.

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What can

you do?

While we wait for physical interaction to be safe, we can ensure that our senior loved ones are socially connected in other ways. The easiest and most common way to join connect now is via Facetime, Zoom, or other video conferencing applications. Most of them are easy to use, and this can be an excellent way to reinstate a sense of normalcy. If these calls are scheduled, it can help loved ones get into a routine, and give them something to look forward to and prepare for. If you have a regular tradition like watching a movie together on Sundays, that can be done over video calls, pausing periodically to discuss the show or movie. You can also send gifts through the mail, and greater creativity is always valued. However, the critical part of all of this is ensuring your loved ones feel like they have a network to fall back on.

Identifying

Issues

Staying connected with your loved one will also help you identify any issues that might arise. If you feel worried that your loved one might be suffering as a result of fear, anxiety, and social isolation, here are some warning signs you need to look out for:

  • Speech:
    • Your loved one might be abnormally quiet or tearful, withholding from a conversation they would enjoy under most circumstances. In contrast, they may exhibit pressured speech, speaking at an accelerated rate with a sense of urgency inappropriate for the situation at hand. These can be signs that your loved one is experiencing depression, severe anxiety, or other mental health issues related to dramatic change.
  • Behavior:
    • When fear becomes panic, the psychological and physical health of your loved one could be at risk. Irrational fears and unnecessary dramatic shifts in behavior to accommodate those fears can signal panic. Sleep loss, irritability, agitation, and slower processing can also be signs of a mental health crisis. Do not make the mistake of writing these behaviors off as usual for old age. As behavioral health experts know, many symptoms that older adults exhibit are ignored until significant damage has been done to their mental and physical health.
  • Threats:
    • Stated threats, often in the form of off-hand comments, can be a cry for help. If your loved one says things like “I’d rather be dead than live through another month of lockdown,” this should be given serious attention. Seniors are amongst the most likely in the country to commit suicide, and recent developments can be severe triggers.
  • Radio Silence:
    • If you’re used to hearing from your loved one, and you haven’t been hearing from them or cannot get in touch with them, this can be a warning sign for serious mental health issues. In this case, you can always ask for a safety check from the local fire department or sheriff’s office.
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identifying

issues

Staying connected with your loved one will also help you identify any issues that might arise. If you feel worried that your loved one might be suffering as a result of fear, anxiety, and social isolation, here are some warning signs you need to look out for:

  • Speech:
    • Your loved one might be abnormally quiet or tearful, withholding from a conversation they would enjoy under most circumstances. In contrast, they may exhibit pressured speech, speaking at an accelerated rate with a sense of urgency inappropriate for the situation at hand. These can be signs that your loved one is experiencing depression, severe anxiety, or other mental health issues related to dramatic change.
  • Behavior:
    • When fear becomes panic, the psychological and physical health of your loved one could be at risk. Irrational fears and unnecessary dramatic shifts in behavior to accommodate those fears can signal panic. Sleep loss, irritability, agitation, and slower processing can also be signs of a mental health crisis. Do not make the mistake of writing these behaviors off as usual for old age. As behavioral health experts know, many symptoms that older adults exhibit are ignored until significant damage has been done to their mental and physical health.
  • Threats:
    • Stated threats, often in the form of off-hand comments, can be a cry for help. If your loved one says things like “I’d rather be dead than live through another month of lockdown,” this should be given serious attention. Seniors are amongst the most likely in the country to commit suicide, and recent developments can be severe triggers.
  • Radio Silence:
    • If you’re used to hearing from your loved one, and you haven’t been hearing from them or cannot get in touch with them, this can be a warning sign for serious mental health issues. In this case, you can always ask for a safety check from the local fire department or sheriff’s office.

Identifying The Signs

These warning signs can be identified with thorough communication. Don’t lecture your loved one, but be sure to ask prompting questions that can give you peace of mind. Ask them how they’ve slept, who they’ve spoken to recently, and how they’re feeling. This knowledge will help you and your loved one gauge their mental health. If you feel concerned, it’s always a good idea to work with a mental health professional. Specialists in senior behavioral health, such as those at WellQor, can be crucial in ensuring the lasting psychological and emotional health of older adults.

Candace Williams, LCSW, ASW-G, FDC, CMS, FDC, MCPM

Candace Williams, LCSW, ASW-G, FDC, CMS, FDC, MCPM

Candace Williams is the Director of Clinician Development for WellQor, the nation's leading provider of behavioral health services for Seniors. Candace received her MSW from Columbia University, and has spent over 20 years in the field developing unique interventions to better the lives of her clients. Throughout her time in the field, Candace has worked as a certified geriatric social worker, certified mediator, crisis management specialist, and family development specialist.

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