How to help seniors and loved ones cope with stress over COVID-19 Coronavirus.

March 16th, 2020 | COVID-19 Helpful Information

Now that the World Health Organization has classified the new coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak as a pandemic (worldwide exposure), rumors and panicky misinterpretation of the facts tend to intensify. When these reach the ears of older adults, the reaction can be exaggerated. Especially for seniors with cognitive decline or dementia, a state of quarantine or “social distancing” can aggravate anxiety, anger, distress and isolation. You can help your older loved one cope with the stress and see this through if you, your family and friends follow a few simple pieces of advice.


Keep the news updates to a minimum. Avoid the steady diet of media that would make any usually calm person anxious or fearful. Check reliable news sources once or twice a day. Then, take comfort in the fact that now you know about the hazards of the disease and you're doing all you can to protect your loved ones and yourself.


Get the facts. Look to established health authorities and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO) website, from which the advice in this article was drawn. Visiting two or three of these comprehensive and credible sources will answer all of your questions and confirm that you're getting the right information.


Keep it simple and clear. When you share facts about what's going on and how to reduce the risk of infection, use words that older people with or without cognitive impairment can understand. "There's a virus going around. We're being extra careful." It's respectful, truthful, and would be a good introduction to any practice you have to explain, such as more frequent handwashing and housecleaning, and explaining why group activities have been “postponed” (rather than “cancelled”). When you find a newspaper or online article with pictures that does a good job of explaining, save it. This can be calming and informative at the same time.


Watch your language. The words “epidemic” and “pandemic” are accurate, but to the fearful, highly sensational. Keep it personal. What's going on inside your house is not an epidemic. “We're staying inside because there's a lot of it going around.” Enough said. Don’t refer to people with the disease as “cases” or “victims.” They're “people who have COVID-19” or “people recovering from this coronavirus.”


Stay calm, protect yourself and help other people. First, be a good role model for others, regardless of their age. If you project an attitude of calm, rational caution, this will restore your own sense of control and ease the anxiety of those around you. Don't pretend that COVID-19 is not serious, just say that your chances of exposure are at a minimum when you follow precautions.


Repeat positive stories to counteract the rumor mill. Well-meaning friends are easy to listen to and are often "full of facts" that don't portray the actual situation and can encourage dangerous behavior. There are plenty of stories of people like your loved one who have recovered from a coronavirus encounter. They testify to the validity of trusting the health authorities and relying on the support of loved ones.


Engage family and friends to inform and help them practice prevention. Encourage peers, especially knowledgable older adults and retired medical professionals, to volunteer in neighbor-checking and providing childcare for medical personnel restricted to facilities fighting COVID-19. Build a sense of residence and a network of outreach. It's rewarding and effective.


Residents of senior living residences should be comforted by the fact that they're surrounded by health care professionals and that cleanliness and the best practices in maintaining sanitary conditions are already routine throughout their environment.

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