Page 14 - Scene Magazine 45-05 May 2020
P. 14

 THE current coronavirus (COVID-19) situation is stressful for everyone. Not only are we learning to practice precautions to prevent infection from hand washing to social distancing we are also learning to manage new technology for working from home and mastering the Zoom meeting. But there are additional consequences that have started to surface, from financial challenges to mental challenges. Isolation, in particular, can seem to creep in whether you live alone or with family members.
While in a meeting today one of the partici- pants asked this question, “How do I escape the stress of isolation without truly being alone?” While this seems like an unusual question, I completely understood what they were asking. I am not a therapist but what I know is that we are social beings. This shut down has forced many that were previously fully engaged in a daily social envi- ronment to work from home, and in many cases, while surrounded by other family members. As a result, forced working from home has crossed an imaginary line where you could previously drop the stress of the day and walk into your personal and private space. It has eliminated an opportunity to let go of one stressor before moving to the next, whether it’s teaching fifth grade math, feeding everyone lunch from what’s left in the cupboards to avoid a trip to the store, figuring out how you will make ends meet, or even managing the loss of special events with those most dear to you.
Add to that, the shelter in place concept and you are committed to the same space, day after day, with the same people, without relief. Resulting in isolation without truly being alone.
While social distancing is clearly leading to so- cial isolation and loneliness for all ages, there are increased risks for mature adults. According to a
study at the University of Michigan, more than one in four adults ages 50-80 said they felt isolated prior to the start of this pandemic. This pandemic has led to further decreased contact for the nearly 36 million Americans living alone, increasing the sense of isolation even more.
The consequences of loneliness and social isolation are significant. They have been linked to both physical and mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, heart disease, diabetes, and dementia. According to NIH, health damage caused by isolation and loneliness is estimated
to increase the risk of early death by 26 percent. Scientific American has equated it to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. AARP estimates the cumulative cost to Medicare could cost an additional $6.7 billion each year before COVID-19 issues.
Moreover, our seniors with additional chronic conditions who are at the greatest risk for COVID-19 are also the same who report the highest rates of social isolation. Those with chronic conditions, including cognitive and physical limita- tions, are more than two times as likely to report feeling socially isolated than adults who do not have these health conditions.
Family members, along with caregivers, providers, and even policymakers can play an important role in creating solutions for those at risk for or experiencing isolation. A variety of digital solutions, along with patience, and a bit of kind- ness, can be a part of our first line of offense and relief during this time. In the long run, however, effective, in-person support will become a critical part of the solution again.
But for now, we will adjust. During this stay at home time we know to stay away to keep our loved ones safe. But it’s also critical to make sure we stay in touch with our aging loved ones
in particular. Make certain they understand that you are trying to protect them by staying away. Intentionally stay in touch; share daily details with them. As you may have guessed, with reduced direct contact, the need to utilize other forms of communication increases.
According to Pew Research, nearly half of older adults do not have broadband service or smart phones. Policymakers can consider ways to increase access. Medicare and Medicaid already subsidize this in certain situations for people living with disabilities.
If your loved one is without internet access, daily phone calls can be really valuable. If they have a smart phone, however, then you can have visual conversations through Face Time, or even Skype; both provide an opportunity for direct interaction. Facebook is another great way to communicate but to also share video messages and photos. Any of these that provide for direct interaction helps the person on the other end feel more like you are there with them.
Telehealth care providers can screen for social isolation, as well as other conditions, and evaluate the impact. Appropriate supports can be recom- mended including a variety of companionship programs that might currently operate remotely.
Many who are impacted by the bombarding
of alarming messages are now experiencing increased fear and anxiety, leading in turn to potential increased, or newly developed, mental health problems, according to Noel McDermott, Psychotherapist. Oftentimes mental health difficul- ties are underreported and those conditions can worsen when under the additional stress we are all experiencing. Additional issues could include de- pression, cognitive decline in dementia conditions, and increase in alcohol abuse.
Survive In Isola
Empowerment and self-efficacy are profo times when we feel so disempowered.

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