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Senior Citizens Dealing With Mental Health Illness During the Pandemic

The family is vaccinated, the bags are packed, the car is loaded, and your headed off to your favorite vacation spot. You stop on the way to pick up the grandparents and to your surprise there’s no answer. It’s the first time in over a year you could all be together yet ringing the bell and knocking on the door fails to get a response. Worried, you peak through a window, see Grandpa, and point toward the door. Through the closed door he yells, “Go away; we aren’t going. We don’t want to see anyone; just go away.”

COVID-19’s lockdown has had a damaging effect on the elderly – physically and mentally. Despite phone calls, facetime, and zoom family gatherings, the absence of physical contact has led to isolation and chronic loneliness. Sheltering-in-place, social distancing, wearing a mask, and being told “older adults are at a greater risk of requiring hospitalization or dying if they are diagnosed with COVID-19” was frightening. For many, a return to physical contact with children and grandchildren is like a toddler’s first day of pre-school. Fear of COVID-19 for over a year, challenges scheduling a vaccine, the back and forth of mask wearing, and having friends and family whose lives have been lost to COVID has been psychologically damaging. Transitioning from isolation to family gatherings is challenging for many seniors. They love their families and long for human touch, yet fear of everything the pandemic brought remains with them. Improving Lives Counseling Services offers transitional mental health check-ups and treatment for the elderly in individual, couples, family, and group settings.

Watching far too much television and being cut off from friends and family, many seniors mentally escaped into an unhealthy reality full of uncertainty, fear, panic, and a sense of detachment. Prior to COVID-19, seniors lived in a society where 70 was the new 50 and 80 the new 60. They were society’s new “social butterflies” keeping up with the rest of the world mentally, physically, and emotionally. Days were spent with friends in Senior Centers, working out in local parks, and picking grandchildren up from school. Even the elderly housed in care facilities left their rooms for meals and fun activities. COVID-19, coupled with physiological changes which come with aging radically, changed an entire population. Even seniors energetic enough to take on a second career found themselves hiding behind closed doors, afraid to see a son or daughter, unable to hug or hold a grandchild. To protect them from COVID-19, elderly living with family were told they must remain in their room, away from children and grandchildren, or move to a secure facility. Now a year later, their youngest grandchild (too young for the vaccine) runs up to give you a hug – the fear is real. Grandparents love their children and grandchildren, yet the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports many – even the vaccinated elderly – can still be exposed to COVID.

The pandemic forced seniors to shop online, order meals and groceries and have them delivered, and become more technically savvy. These conveniences met day to day basic needs, yet did nothing to avert the stress, anxiety, and depression brought on by isolation. “Research has shown that chronic social isolation increases the risk of mental health issues as well as chronic conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.” Isolated seniors and the elderly have experienced weight gain, a change in appearance, a decrease in fitness, and a silencing as behaviors became unfamiliar and emotions flared. Increased aggressiveness, less cooperation, excessive sleepiness, frightening nightmares, uncontrollable crying, and an unending sadness have also been reported.

Recent CDC studies found: “Social isolation significantly increased a person’s risk of premature death from all causes, a risk that may rival those of smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity. Social isolation was associated with about a 50% increased risk of dementia, and poor social relationships was associated with a 29% increased risk of heart disease – and a 32% increased risk of stroke. Depression brought on by loneliness and isolation was associated with higher rates of suicide.”

Meet With Our Therapists Today

Unfortunately, many seniors allow the stigma attached to seeking mental health care prevent them from getting the guidance, help, and support they need. Isolation and loneliness can be mentally and physically crippling. Improving Lives Counseling Services’ team of counselors, therapists, and clinicians help seniors and the elderly living at home on their own, residing in senior care facilities, or living with children and grandchildren treat the psychological issues triggered by COVID-19 isolation and their hesitancy to reconnect. With a path to emotional well-being, we meet the specific needs of this population, understanding the anxieties and phobias linked to loneliness and isolation. Improving Lives Counseling Services offers video (online) and in-person sessions. Call us to learn more.