Last Christmas, many families in the cold Northeast celebrated the holiday via Zoom, or bundled up in garages or even canceled gatherings altogether because of COVID. Ensuring that Grandma, Grandpa or Aunt Betty weren’t infected during a holiday gathering with the extended family was a top priority.
Well, here we are again, on the brink of COVID Winter of Our Discontent Part II, as the Delta variant continues to fill hospitals and the Omicron variant continues to make headlines. Even fully vaccinated and boosted people are worried about gathering indoors with the particularly vulnerable elderly.
It is this social isolation that can lead to an increase in anxiety and depression among our older population, said Betty Duncan, LPN, geriatric care manager for Hartford HealthCare’s Center for Healthy Aging in the East Region. Keeping loved ones safe from infection may mean they are alone a lot this winter, and that can cause other issues.
“Yes, we are all tired of COVID, but we can’t let our guard down,” Duncan said. “We have to remain vigilant. Wash your hands, sanitize around you, wear your mask, change that mask often, be vaccinated, get boosted. And if you have any symptoms — any — then you need to stay away (from the elderly).”
Long periods of being alone on top of late afternoon darkness can cause anxiety and depression in anyone, but the elderly are especially vulnerable, Duncan said.
Signs and symptoms of depression can include weight loss, becoming withdrawn, not engaging in conversation, not showing interest in anything and disruption in sleep patterns.
The most important thing you can do, Duncan said, is stay in touch. “Ask,” she said. “Ask, how are you doing? How are you feeling? Don’t settle for yes and no answers. Help them look for things to look forward to, for things that bring joy in life.”
If you have concerns, you can call 211 for referral to services, or the Center for Healthy Aging. The Center for Healthy Aging was developed in 2004 as a free resource and assessment center designed to make it easier for seniors, their loved ones and caregivers to access essential information and services to attain the optimal quality of life. The Center has a team of professionals with expertise in human services, education, gerontology, nursing, and social work.
And it’s not just relatives to look out for, Duncan noted.
“Think about the people who are around you,” she said. “If you don’t see your neighbor for a while, go knock on their door. Let them know they are thought of and cared about. See if they need anything.”
As a geriatric care manager, Duncan spends time with clients each day.
“We are the extra set of eyes and ears,” she said, for family who might live too far away to see an elderly parent or relative often. The relationship includes everything from coordinating medical appointments to medication management to assisting with bill paying and paperwork. Duncan recently visited with a client in Vernon, bringing him some homemade chili and staying to play multiple hands of rummy.
“I can’t remember the last time I played cards,” the man told her. “I have no one to play with.”