SOMD — Social distancing measures designed to protect the elderly from COVID-19 can have unintended mental health consequences for senior citizens. In part 1 of this special series, caregiving expert, Jennifer L. FitzPatrick, LCSW-C, CSP, explained the devastating effects of isolation on the elderly.

In part 2, FitzPatrick, the author of Cruising Through Caregiving: Reducing The Stress of Caring for Your Loved One, offers advice on how to lessen the risks.

Nursing Homes and Homecare

With nursing homes on lockdown to safeguard from the virus, many families are hesitating to consider placing loved ones into care. FitzPatrick said the choice may be the best option for some. “If the family caregivers are burning out, often assisted living and nursing home options still make sense, despite strict visitation policies.”

She said that many facilities have increased activities for seniors to attempt to keep them engaged. And that for some, interaction with staff members and other residents is preferable to living in isolation at home.

“If there are situations where the older adult is wandering or engaging in other dangerous behaviors (leaving stove on, etc.) because of cognitive conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, it might still make sense to move to senior living during this time.”

FitzPatrick also said in-home care offers a solution. She suggests going through a licensed homecare agency. “It’s always best to utilize a licensed home care agency for this, however.  An agency that background checks, supervises and trains the home care aide is best.  Even though it costs more money than hiring someone on your own, the risks are fewer.  Not only is the aide screened, but the agency typically will make sure there are back-up staff if your usual aide becomes ill or unavailable.”

Pick Up The Phone

While Zoom and other video chat options are great ways to keep in touch, FitzPatrick said it’s a good idea to consider going old-school with communication. “Don’t underestimate the power of a phone call.  Many older adults are more comfortable on the phone, especially if there is dementia. Send cards and gifts.  Do drive-by visits.”

She said it’s also a good idea to make sure there are multiple social contacts each week. Family and friends should spread out Zoom calls, drive-by visits, cards, and other interactions.

If you do decide to visit in person, make sure to maintain social distance and open up windows to allow more ventilation. Of course, don’t visit if anyone in your family is feeling even slightly ill.

FitzPatrick said this is especially important during the holidays. “If you won’t see your older loved one over the holidays, it’s crucial to get creative and make special plans.  Maybe watch a favorite holiday movie together over Zoom.  Watch a holiday concert online and then discuss over the phone how the music made you feel.  Send inexpensive, fun gifts or cards frequently.”