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We are all getting older. What we care about today is the future that we care about tomorrow. At Home Care Assistance, we are in the business of providing person-centered care that focuses on bringing quality of life to our clients and their families.

This past year has been a test of how we treat older adults among us. Unfortunately, there have been many failures. Sometimes it takes a catastrophic event to open our eyes to help us see more clearly what is vital to health and personal satisfaction. Mental health problems are one of the fallouts of COVID-19, not only for older adults, but for people of all ages around the world.

COVID, Mental Health and Seniors

The mental health of older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic has received significant attention, and it should. 95% of Americans killed by COVID are over the age of 50. We are beginning to understand why older adults are disproportionately affected by COVID, and one of the reasons is the congregate nature of senior living communities. The other is the medical vulnerability of many older adults. We can’t overstate the emotional, psychological and physical impact of this once-in-a-lifetime event.

Social isolation and loneliness have been ongoing problems for seniors even before the mandated quarantines in senior living. Independent, assisted living, and nursing homes have restricted access to family members and professional caregivers.

Older Adults, Loneliness and Health

Whether older adults live at home or in a senior living community, loneliness affects more than one-third of adults ages 45 and older. Why does loneliness matter? There are well-established risk factors associated with loneliness.

  • Social isolation significantly increases a person’s risk of premature death.
  • Social isolation can increase the risk of dementia by 50%.
  • Loneliness is associated with a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke.
  • There are higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide for older adults who are lonely.

During the pandemic, estimates of depression and anxiety among older adults vary, with some reports of older adults showing remarkable resilience. However, a Kaiser Family Foundation report found that one in four older adults reported experiencing depression or anxiety during the pandemic.

For older adults with dementia, the pandemic posed significant challenges, including their higher risk for contracting the virus. Memory care communities have struggled to maintain physical distancing and safety protocols for their residents with dementia. Just imagine how confusing and disruptive for an older adult with dementia to be constantly reminded to follow safety protocols when they don’t understand why.

Studies of older adults with dementia show that forced social isolation has led to increased reported psychiatric symptoms such as stress, anxiety, and depression. This finding is not a surprise, but it doesn’t capture the true nature of the tragic emotional impact of being separated from friends and family. To further complicate matters, it is almost impossible to monitor care or advocate for a loved one you can’t visit.

Many of you know first hand the effects of restricted visitation and even loss of loved ones. Phone calls and video conferencing are not a substitute for in-person contact. For many older adults, even the technological expertise required to access video has been challenging. Now that communities are opening up again, it is time to reconnect with older adults, rebuild relationships, and improve their mental health.

Isolation and How Home Care Assistance Can Help

As families begin to reunite with the lifting of restrictions, many of you may be shocked at the significant decline that has taken place over this last year. A year of isolation and fear takes a toll on our most vulnerable population.

Restrictions are slowly lifting across the country now that senior living communities are reaching a critical mass of vaccinations. Some communities are going more slowly than others, and although there are CDC recommendations, each community is making its own decisions. Even for older adults who live at home, social isolation and the reluctance of some families to allow caregivers in is starting to thaw. Let’s look at how Home Care Assistance can help older adults kick start their mental and physical health and help them live as independently as possible.

Companionship

The word companionship doesn’t begin to describe how the presence of another person in an older adult's life brings immeasurable value. Yes, families are vital to beginning reconnection, but they can’t be there all of the time. Social connection prevents loneliness by helping people feel cared for and protected. Also, companionship is a two-way street. The benefit of our in-home caregivers allows an older adult to converse, share and form relationships.

Cognitive Stimulation

Evidence suggests that thinking skills are less likely to decline for older adults with dementia who engage in mentally stimulating activities. Home Care Assistance caregivers offer a range of activities to suit seniors’ individual needs with or without dementia. These activities include but are not limited to help with technology, games, crafts, puzzles, and conversation.

Reinforcing of Health Habits

There are simply not enough staff members to reinforce healthy habits for seniors who live in assisted living and nursing homes. And, for people who live at home, the challenge is even greater. Caregivers with Home Care Assistance can remind their clients to hydrate and take medication, prepare nutritious meals, and help them with their recommended exercises.

Communication with the Family

A caregiver in assisted living or at home is another set of eyes and ears. As a family caregiver, you understand how hard it is to know what is going on with your loved one. Our caregivers understand the value of attending to changes and problems and reporting those to family.

Hope for the Future

Now that we are beginning to re-engage with loved ones, our commitment is to be a part of the solution. At Home Care Assistance, we care deeply about our client and their families. Let’s all work together to improve the mental health of older adults.


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About the Author(s)

I am a first-generation American and my family is from Quito, Ecuador.

I was raised in NY and graduated from Johnson & Wales University in 1994. I started in homecare back in 2004 and 17 years later I still enjoy helping families get the right caregiver for their loved ones. My passion for helping seniors is the most rewarding position I have ever had the honor to call a job. I am married and live in Morris Plains, NJ with my husband David, daughter Kelsey, and son Nicholas.

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