Putting yourself in the seat of a senior, what would it feel like to be constantly reminded about the fear of contracting COVID-? While facing the reality that grave illness or death for themselves or their friends may be just around the corner, the curve of anxiety takes a steep turn upwards. Not only is the mind turning various possibilities of “What if’s”, they are also more prone to constant worrying, sleeping and eating problems, concentration difficulties, increased irritability and frustration, and likely fear the worst-case scenarios – all symptoms of clinical anxiety; and all normal in the face of a pandemic.
On top of this, seniors, as is the case for most Americans, are authorized to isolate themselves or practice social distancing during the course of this virus. Overall, seniors struggle significantly more with isolation compared to the general population. As isolation persists as a constant, loneliness oftentimes begets depression. Being alone can be debilitating, with a high suicide rate among those over 65, noting that 18% of all suicide deaths are from the elderly population. Depression among the elderly oftentimes shows itself with common symptoms, including staying in bed and sleeping too much or too little, not eating well, losing interest in a usual routine, having little energy to do even pleasurable activities, postponing contact with others, and of course isolating. Actually, if you have visited your area nursing home or senior living facilities, it is evident that there is an epidemic of loneliness among its residents.
On the flip side, not only do seniors isolate themselves when depressed, the truth is that they are isolated as a forgotten generation while the rest of the world stays busy with all its distractions. Their isolation comes from within as well as in a large part, prompted by the reality of being left behind as an after-thought or one of the last “things to do” on their adult children’s “to do” list. Isolation is a daily reality for most seniors, and likely much more so with the COVID-19 virus.
As we all face being home-bound, missing our friends and those family members not living with us, isolated in a sense from normal living, let’s pause and empathize with those seniors that live like this as a matter of routine. Reach out and connect. Seniors need the support, comfort, and alliance during this difficult time. They are a special generation of people with strong values and faith, hardy by history, and have been our leaders and role models for the generations after them. They are next in line as the lost generation. Let us respect, appreciate and value their worth, and keep them in your thoughts and prayers. Now that life hurriedness has taken a stop with quarantine for most of us, let us take time and reflect on what really is important. Reach out and virtually touch a senior, including those that are isolated as well as those more vulnerable and are especially dealing with heightened anxiety and depression. If you were sitting in their seat, isn’t that what you would want?
Claudia A. Liljegren, MSW, LICSW
Mental Health Professional