Whether you’re over 60 years old, or supporting a parent or grandparent through COVID-19, life is probably stressful right now.
Physical distancing is one of the most effective tools we have to fight COVID-19, and protect those at higher risk of the disease. The Federal Government has also asked that all older Australians not to leave their homes unless it’s essential, and restricted visitors to residential care facilities.
However, it’s important to make sure physical distancing doesn’t turn into social isolation. Research has shown social isolation can cause depression and anxiety, so here are some tips on how to manage your health in the following months.
Feeling more anxious than usual?
That’s perfectly normal. Anxiety or hyperawareness is part of our inbuilt survival mechanism which helps warn of us about situations which may pose a threat or danger. COVID-19 falls into that category.
If you or a loved one had already been suffering depression or anxiety before the pandemic, you may find it harder than usual to remain positive. Brain diseases such as dementia and Parkinson’s disease can also heighten confusion too.
So what can you do?
Schedule social interaction
Whether you’re feeling lonely, or you’re worried about someone else, establish regular communication with your family, friends or community members. It doesn’t matter if it’s a daily phone call or a text message.
If you haven’t tried video chat technology before, now might be the time to give it a go. There are a range of free platforms like WhatsApp, Skype and Zoom, which mimic normal face to face talks. Ask someone tech-savvy if you need help.
Stay informed, but limit your news intake
It’s tempting to have the TV on all day, but news’ 24 hour cycle means COVID-19 coverage is endless.
Instead, stay up to date with reliable, factual sources like the World Health Organisation or the Department of Health’s COVID-19 website. Switch on a movie or read a book to give yourself a mental break.
Buy essentials online
Staying at home doesn’t mean you have to miss out on anything you need. These days you can virtually find anything online. Try asking friends or family for assistance if you don’t know where to look.
Food and meals: Many government funded providers, such as Meals on Wheels, can help you with access to regular food supplies and prepared meals. Most major supermarkets also offer online shopping and delivery services.
Health care and medication: Many doctors now offer consultations over the phone or video chat as part of a service called Telehealth. They can send your prescriptions direct to a local pharmacy, who may have a home delivery option. If you’re living alone, you can register with Telecross (part of the Red Cross) for a daily welfare call.
Mental health: Under the government's Better Access to Mental Health Care initiative, you’re entitled to Medicare rebates for up to 10 sessions with a psychologist, and many psychologists offer telephone consultations. Speak to your doctor if you’d like to access these services. UQ has also commenced research to improve anxiety treatment in older persons, which you can participate in.
Be kind to yourself
It’s important to listen to your body and try to recognise your stress indicators early, so you can try to diffuse panic. Here are some simple strategies to help.
Eat smart: It’s tempting to reach for chocolate or alcohol when you’re feeling stressed or lonely, but a balanced and healthy diet has been proven to help boost your mood. It will also help support your immune system.
Keep active: No matter what your level of fitness or mobility, find as many opportunities as possible to keep your body moving. Walk around your house or garden, or try an online exercise video specifically designed for seniors, elderly and older people.
Exercise your mind: It’s important to keep your mind occupied too. Try meditating, dig out a puzzle or start a new craft project. Explore some free online games, like scrabble or crosswords. Or perhaps you could try listening to an audio book or podcast (they’re similar to radio serials/shows, but online).
Sleep well: A good night’s sleep is important to support your immune system, rest and revive. If you’re struggling to achieve a good length of sleep, avoid afternoon naps, caffeinated drinks, and activities that stimulate your brain just before bedtime. Maintain a regular and consistent time to go to sleep. Psychologists can also help you with adjusting your sleep patterns if needed.
Overall, try to remain optimistic
Remember that this is a unique time and it’s only temporary. Be kind to yourself and others, and try to enjoy the simplicity.
Dr Nadeeka Dissanayaka leads the Dementia & Neuro Mental Health Research Unit at the University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research. She is an affiliate research fellow at UQ’s School of Psychology and the Department of Neurology at the Royal Brisbane & Women’s Hospital.