Above: Apps like Zoom and Skype let you visit loved ones from anywhere. Image by pasja1000 from Pixabay

Roswell writer and retired U.S. Army Col. Jim Blair has been kind of lonely lately. During the ongoing pause in daily life to try to curtail the spread of COVID-19, he’s found he’s spending more time in front of the TV.

In a humorous article he emailed to friends, Blair says he’s close to coming down with what he called “Cabin Fever Blues.” He’s had his fill of TV’s endless news shows and ads, but he has absorbed a few lessons along the way.

“I plan to wash my hands, eat a wholesome snack, wash my hands, take my meds, wash my hands, crawl into my new customized bed, think about how lucky I am to enjoy my new rare fiber Egyptian sheets and the world’s most exquisite pillow and watch old reruns of Gunsmoke,” he wrote.

Stay safe, but stay connected

Plenty of Georgians, especially seniors, are starting to feel that same cabin fever. They’re trying to cope as they look forward to the return of what used to be considered normal life. That was before COVID-19 led to government recommendations that residents “shelter in place” to avoid catching and spreading the deadly disease.

Dr. Pamela Dorsett

“With shelter-in-place orders during the pandemic, most of the ways older adults stay connected with others are ill-advised or even prevented because of the risk of exposure to COVID-19,” Dr. Pamela Dorsett, an Atlanta clinical psychologist, said. “Daily routines have been disrupted and in-person interactions extremely limited or non-existent. Under such circumstances, older adults may feel depressed, anxious, isolated, or lonely.”

Georgia adults over the age of 65 have been asked to stay home as much as possible until June 12. In addition, long-term care facilities, including nursing homes, personal care homes, assisted living facilities, and similar community living homes, have enhanced infection control protocols to help ensure safer living conditions. Sometimes that means turning away visitors — even family members — for the time being.

Research shows that loneliness can bring on many problems for older adults, including a diminished quality of life, stress, and depression, Dorsett added. Dealing with that isolation is important, and because of COVID-19, people are finding new ways for seniors to connect.

“When we feel we have some control over a stressful situation, we feel stress less intensely,” said Dorsett. “Accessibility to resources that help older adults connect with others, such as technology, and the skills to utilize the resources provide a greater sense of control.”

These days, she said, families may need to try a little harder to stay in touch with their elder members, but she suggests the extra effort will be worthwhile. “It’s the right time to ensure they have the resources they need to connect with others,” she continued.

After all, getting through a pandemic is a new experience for all of us. So, perhaps comfort, like safety, exists in numbers. Therapist Scott Bea of the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio said one thing that we can all do is “remember that literally billions of other people are in the same boat.”

Another thing we can do is to limit the amount of news we watch each day. In April, writer and blogger John O’Leary wrote that one study – actually done before the pandemic began – found 94% of articles shared by the media are negative. “That’s a stunningly high 19 of every 20 stories,” he wrote.

Dunwoody program leader Kate Borden directs a group of seniors at Country Gardens senior living facility in an online workout. She can see the class on her computer screen and they can see her on theirs. SPECIAL

Some seniors have learned to use their computers and phones as a way to connect with others through videoconferencing using programs such as Zoom or Skype. Those programs allow seniors to see and chat online with grandchildren and other family members while still practicing social distancing.

“Videoconferencing, virtual activities, phone calls, emails and even visits separated by windows or glass doors help to maintain contact,” Dorsett said.

In April, Dunwoody’s city recreation department found another way to connect. It announced a plan to provide some seniors with exercise classes via Zoom. Country Gardens Dunwoody, a senior living facility, was the first to sign up and already has held exercise classes.

“Senior living facilities have been an area of concern,” Dunwoody Parks and Recreation Supervisor Rachel Waldron said, adding that some senior facilities had been seeking ways to support their residents’ mental and physical well-being even before the pandemic.

“The COVID-19 crisis has been especially difficult for senior living residents, who are more vulnerable and really can’t get out very often,” she said. “We are always looking for new ways to let them know we’re here for them.”

On the mental health side, a pen pal program began May 1 for residents of the Country Gardens facility. With help from the community to serve as pen pals, new “connections” are being formed among all those who want to participate. Interested families or individuals can sign up by sending an email to: parks@dunwoodyga.gov.

Stuck at Home? Try Something New

  • Eat nutritious meals. Those late-night peanut-butter-and-jelly half-sandwiches aren’t helping with weight control and my not give the joy that can come from planning a special dinner.
  • Stick with a routine. Maybe morning stretches when you first wake up or touching your toes before crawling into bed. If you set time aside to make it happen, you will usually feel much better.
  • Learn a new skill. Or even try an old skill and see if it adds something special to your day. The main point is to “connect” with others via Bingo on Zoom, or bridge in the main dining area if you’re in a senior living situation.
  • Don’t wait for the children or grandchildren to call you. If you’re lonely, give someone a call. If not a family member, then think of a friend that might like to know you’re doing OK.

Source: Cleveland Clinic

Judi Kanne

Judi Kanne is a public health communications consultant and contributing writer to Atlanta Senior Life.