Pretoria, 14 September 2020: Fleurenville Aged Care Centre has highlighted the emotional and mental strain of the lockdown on our elderly. Although we all feel that we have a lot on our plates right now, providing support to our elderly will be crucial. Although we have moved to Stage 2, the elderly are still in isolation due to their higher risk. The aged care team at Fleurenville have provided five simple actions that you can take to better support the elderly people in your lives through this challenging time.
The South African government’s lockdown is vital for protecting our nation against Covid-19 infection. The rest of us are celebrating the move down to Stage 2 but for the elderly who need to continue to keep their distance, the lockdown is entering its fifth month. The result is millions of elderly people are feeling the mental and emotional effects of loneliness and isolation. As much as the elderly are at higher risk for Covid-19, they are also acutely vulnerable to the psychological effects of being isolated says Cobus Locke, CEO of Fleurenville Aged Care Centre.
“We typically look at social interaction and activity as a vital part of aged care and wellbeing for the elderly. Now we are saying the opposite, and not only are we telling seniors to keep to themselves, we are telling them to do this at an incredibly stressful time,” says Locke.
The elderly are typically not as tech savvy as younger generations which means that the things most people have been doing to fill their time like watching Netflix and scrolling through TikTok are not an option. Many activities that the elderly enjoy are usually done in groups which means that they have lost both socialisation and entertainment.
“They have lost their routine which is vitally important to them. They miss the small things like talking to people and going for their walks. At Fleurenville we have the staff and resources to provide distractions, including occupational intervention such as bio kinetic exercises, bowling, music groups and arts and craft activities for our residents, while maintaining social distancing and hygiene. However, this not an option for those living alone,” Locke explains.
Intensifying the feelings of boredom and loneliness is the stress and fear that we are experiencing as the world grapples with a viral pandemic. Older people are feeling anxious and afraid of Covid-19 but not just for themselves – for their friends and family too. “The news cycle is a never-ending stream of bad news, a lot of it very frightening. Think of the elderly person with nothing to do but sit on the couch and watch the news. They are absorbing a huge amount of negativity. They are worried about the effect that Covid-19 will have on their loved ones. Shopping online is also challenging for them and now they are very afraid of going to the shops to buy groceries,” says Locke. He goes on to say that this anxiety translates to lack of sleep, lack of appetite and a whole host of physical effects that start presenting themselves.
Sadness is yet another aspect to be factored in, according to Locke. “Fleurenville has been in isolation since early March and among the residents we have observed how missing out on life in general has affected them emotionally. Many of them have missed life events like weddings, funerals and meeting new grandchildren.” All this combined, paints a picture of widespread psychological issues which makes it vitally important to take steps to safeguard the mental and emotional wellbeing of the elderly people in your life.
Fleurenville’s expert team consisting of aged care specialists and an occupational therapist provide some advice on how to support the elderly during lockdown.
1. Establish regular communication: Communication, even remotely, is crucial. Try to communicate telephonically at least a few times a week, if not daily. If they have a smartphone and are quite tech savvy, send photos of grandchildren or try video calls if possible. Regular contact and intervention reduce the possibility of depression caused by
isolation and loneliness. It enhances their self-esteem and sense of worth, by knowing that others care, and they have meaningful relationships.
2. Physical distance does not need to mean social distance: For their safety, minimal physical contact with the elderly must be maintained but this doesn’t mean you can’t drop by and chat “from afar”. Standing a few feet away from their door and chatting for 15 minutes while wearing your mask sounds like a small thing but it might make the difference between mild loneliness and intense depression. It also gives them a chance to affirm that you are okay which will provide peace of mind.
3. Establish a new routine: Encourage them to try new things at home to build a new routine and try new hobbies that boost cognitive stimulation. Calling them at a specific time will help with this but also offer them new ideas such as enjoying tea outside in the sunshine every afternoon. Depending on their capabilities, you can help them try new things like listening to audio books. You can buy, sanitise and drop off things like crossword or Sudoku books, puzzles and visual stimulation activities including colouring. Make sure that you are suggesting activities that they are interested in.
4. Encourage self-care: Make sure that they are taking care of themselves. This includes good nutrition. If they cannot shop for themselves or are too afraid to, help set them up with online deliveries or shop for them and drop off sanitised groceries at their door.
You should also try to ensure that their medical supplies are stocked up and send reminders if necessary.
5. Do wellness checks: Social distancing becomes crucial to you as care giver here. Going to their home to check on their physical state, the state of their home and to make sure that they are taking their medication is also important. The levels of precautions that you should take here cannot be overstated. Wearing your mask, sanitising your hands before entering the home and avoiding physical contact are paramount.
“As lockdown progresses, if you find that an elderly loved can no longer live alone or care of themselves, please reach out to Fleurenville for help,” Locke suggests. “Talk to us about the options for care of someone who is not coping on their own – even if it is just for a short while until lockdown is lifted. We have all the precautions in place to safeguard the health of new and existing residents at Fleurenville.”