Helping Seniors Thrive During the Pandemic

Things just aren’t the same. With daily life being turned on its head due to the Coronavirus, many have retreated into survival mode, which seems appropriate. But as we learn more about these challenges and how to face them, some are choosing not only to survive, but to thrive.

As a result of the current pandemic, our vocabulary has been expanded. New terms have infiltrated our daily dialogue.

  • Quarantine
  • Social Distance
  • Asymptomatic
  • Pandemic
  • Super-spreader

Let’s be clear. COVID-19 has changed America. Truthfully, it has changed the world. There’s now a new normal and the old normal may not return.

What can we do?

To say many of our seniors are stressed, anxious or socially isolated for prolonged periods of time is an understatement.

While social distancing is for their well-being, the measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 can affect our seniors in harmful ways. Brain science shows that elongated isolation results in cognitive decline. The key to combating the side effects of quarantine is resilience.

Resilience will help our seniors thrive during this pandemic.

What is resilience? How does a senior develop it? It is the ability to understand a situation, make sense of it by contextualizing it and maintaining perspective over a period of time.

In other words, Reinhold Niebuhr’s humble request for three things rings true:

  1. God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
  2. Courage to change the things I can, and
  3. Wisdom to know the difference.

This is resilience. Understanding, context, recognition, and courage to move forward wisely.

How can seniors develop Niebuhr’s wisdom, which we now recognize as resilience? This article will explore 10 evidenced-based strategies to obtain resilience.

RESILIENCE FOR OUR SENIORS

  1. The Need to Associate
    Many seniors have never faced isolation. The pandemic introduced a new and insidiously cruel emotion that many are unequipped to confront – disassociation. Humans have an inner need, a unique wiring for association. Without association, we dwindle. Isolation is leading seniors to a low they are unfamiliar with and unprepared to face. It is natural to desire association. It’s not good for a human to dwell alone. What’s the fix? What’s the solution? Connection. How? Even if done electronically, some connection is better than no connection. FaceTime, Skype, GoogleDuo, whatever you must do, help them get in contact with people they know and love. And do this frequently. Facebook is not enough. Seniors need to hear and feel the presence of others, even if done electronically. By doing this, resilience is being built, which results in better survival.
  2. Socialize and Thrive
    When people gather for short stints of socialization, stress is reduced and a more positive outlook on life results. Opportunities need to be created where socialization occurs. Even if virtually done, games such as Jeopardy can be played, card games can resume, and puzzle assembly can still happen. That’s right, the pandemic has created a new way of senior activities meant to keep them engaged. By remaining in social circles, even if virtually done, seniors can thrive during the pandemic. Do not let your senior disengage from life due to fear of COVID-19. Be resilient, find a new way, and move forward.
  3. A New Way to be Entertained
    Were you an avid movie watcher? Did you have a frequent club card at your local cinema? Why stop now? Movies are being launched in a different way. Netflix has revamped the movie industry and many seniors are enjoying the comforts of home. And guess what? The popcorn is cheaper. Why stop at new releases? What about all the movies your senior has enjoyed over the years? An Amazon Firestick with a few apps downloaded on it and your seniors can jump from the 1950s to the 1980s to the 2000s in half a day. Movies galore. Why stop at movies? What about Hill Street Blues? Cagney and Lacey? Murder She Wrote? Entertainment has not ceased. It’s offered in a new way. Resilience. Find a new path and move forward.
  4. Listen to the Stories not Just the Statistics
    We have a need to find certainty in times of uncertainty. That makes sense, but how do you do it? Seniors, many of whom are at home, quarantined, socially isolated from others, watch the major news networks and can easily become utterly terrified. What’s the solution? How do we develop resilience? Listen to and look for stories of people who have overcome COVID-19, who have survived COVID-19, or found ways to live during this pandemic. Choose to focus on and surround seniors with uplifting stories. Also, seniors should consider their own stories. What happened when everything went wrong in the past? Resilience. That’s what this is. Put context around the circumstances in which we find ourselves currently. Find the overcomers and join their ranks, even if you must do so virtually.
  5. Get More by Giving
    Seniors have so much to give. Many seniors find few to give to. During this pandemic, altruism does not have to end. Does your senior have wisdom to impart? Does your senior have recipes to share? How about ways to repair household items or gardening tips? Share them. How? Why not have your senior start a YouTube channel. It’s free and a very safe way to give. Show young people how to bake or build a flower bed. Teach piano lessons, painting, crocheting, or simple tips for things around the house. Remember, it’s not just seniors quarantining. Many young parents are trying to navigate work and children and it’s not always going as well as it can. Your seniors’ wisdom can make the difference in a family surviving this pandemic as a solid unit.
  6. Perception is Reality
    We’ve all heard people say, “I know what I know” or “I know what I saw” or “It is what it is.” All of these sayings are associated with perception. What one perceives is a combination of what is seen and what is understood. If such a variance exists, to develop resilience simply change your outlook. We cannot wish this pandemic away, but we can alter how we see life while it is occurring. We can refocus our attention on things that build our character as opposed to frightening us. Help seniors see the other side of the coin. It’s not “what I am unable to do,” but rather, “What I am now able to do.”
  7. Break-time
    Quarantining can be monotonous. Trekking through the house in the same pattern every day. Seeing the same newscaster every day. Cleaning out the same congested closet every week. It’s often too much. The monotony of quarantined life is, well, cruel. So, have your seniors take a break from their norms. Recharge and rejuvenate their brains with a change in behavior. While we quarantine, we are not restricted from driving. Go on a drive. Go to a park. Visit a fishing pond. Take up a new hobby. Canvas painting on the back porch is gaining steam these days. This is yet another way to develop resilience. Take a break.
  8. Work it Out
    Has your senior lost track of the day of the week? What about if they ate breakfast at 9 or 10am? Quarantining has this effect. More than likely it is not dementia, its brain fog brought on by quarantine. Here’s the solution: work it out. It’s time to start exercising. Exertion, even in small increments, increases oxygen to the brain, which in return enhanced brain function and awareness. It’s good for the heart, lungs, legs, you name it. Seniors need physical exertion to thrive during this pandemic. Exercise also cultivates creativity and increases energy. So, develop resilience through working out.
  9. Blue Light at Night
    Screen usage on digital devices has more than quadrupled during the pandemic. If your senior possesses a cellular phone, iPad or laptop, the amount of blue light emitted by these devices disrupts sleep patterns, especially when used during the evening hours. What to do? Have seniors limit the amount of time they spend on these devices, especially in the evening hours. Another key to resilience is rest. Proper rest sustains health and wellness better than anything else. The body needs time to rest and repair itself. This can only happen with sleep that reaches REM. So, limit the blue light at night.
  10. Naturally into Nature
    The truth about humans is simple. We were not made to exist indoors indefinitely. Some of the vital vitamins and nutrients we need are synthesized in our bodies by exposure to the sun. It is natural for us to be in nature. Get seniors out of the house, daily. It is essential to brain and physical health. When seniors are exposed to nature, cognitive function and mental health improve or are sustained at a healthier state. People fear being burnt by the sun, but the reality is you need the sun for survival. Being outside in the sun, especially in the morning hours for the sensitive ones among us, catapults feelings of wellness and cultivates a positive outlook. When we are in nature, all is well, and we begin to see life in that way. So, get outside.

QUALITY CARE HELPS SENIORS THRIVE

Resilience is essential to surviving this pandemic. News networks broadcast statistics about the loss of life to COVID-19, but not survivors and those seniors who are thriving.

Nothing is said about those who lose their life to loneliness, household accidents, or health complications that could easily have been resolved if they were not alone.

What does a senior do to survive this pandemic? The answer is simple. Decide to thrive instead.

The Residential Assisted Living National Association provides content and support to help assisted living owners and operators provide quality care for senior living. Decide to accept what cannot be changed, use strength to change what you can, and get wisdom to determine the difference between the two.

This is resilience and our seniors need it. Empower your residential assisted living home to stop surviving and start thriving by visiting the RALNA website.

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