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Social isolation can have a negative impact on mental health

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EASTON — Seniors are an especially vulnerable population during COVID-19, given their increased co-morbidities. They often feel stressed and anxious due to the increased risk of not only contracting COVID but also suffering more complications if they contract the virus. Some seniors may also be feeling increased sadness related to the isolation caused by the pandemic.

According to Mary Beth Brinsfield, MSN, CRNP-PMH, PMHNP-BC, psychiatric nurse practitioner at For All Seasons, “A common theme I hear from my older patients is how they miss seeing their families, particularly their grandchildren.”

Rob Sanchez, MD, a family practice physician specializing in geriatrics and hospice medicine, said, “My senior patients have done pretty well, following the quarantine instructions and staying home.”

He added that fear seems to be the worst thing facing seniors. He encourages patients to listen to less television and listen to more music.

“I suggested that to a patient, and they called me to tell me how it helped them cope better,” he said.

Sanchez also gives hope to his patients by telling them that at some point there will be a vaccine for coronavirus and that the medical community knows more about the virus now than they did in February and March.

His wife, Lynn Sanchez, a mental health advocate who also works in her husband’s practice, echoed his sentiments about music, “Music can transport us. Seniors can listen to the music channels on cable television or their Alexa or Spotify. You may even ask a senior family member to dance outside with you.”

In a recent article, “Coronavirus and COVID-19: Caregiving for the Elderly,” by Alicia Arbaje, MD, MPH, Ph.D., who specializes in internal medicine and geriatrics at Johns Hopkins Medicine, Arbaje said, “Physical distancing doesn’t have to mean isolation or loneliness. We need to keep older adults safe, but also keep in mind that social isolation can have a negative impact on older people’s immunity and mental health.”

She encourages technology for helping seniors stay connected, showing them how to video chat with others using smartphones, laptops, or tablets and how to use apps on these devices to provide captions for adults with hearing challenges. She added, “Encourage friends and family outside of your household to telephone, write notes or send cards to lift your loved one’s spirits.”

“Planning drive-by visits, having grandchildren color pictures or write letters is an easy way to help seniors not feel as isolated and helps to keep them in communication with loved ones,” Brinsfield added.

She said as neighbors and friends, we can do similar acts that can have a positive impact. Checking in on seniors to make sure they have their basic needs met will help to alleviate the anxiety of how they get food supplies (another stressor) or…

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