For many older adults, the continuing COVID-19 pandemic has caused a great deal of stress and isolation as separation from their families and friends is still necessary for their safety. Grandmothers and grandfathers must stay removed from their grandchildren despite the ache, uncles and aunts are unable to stop by and visit, and this situation has been quite hard on everyone.
Maureen McFadden, a social worker at the Marquette Senior Center, said she has seen a great deal of clients who have developed anxiety during the pandemic, and that issues relating to isolation affect perhaps half of the approximately 1300+ people the senior center serves. Knowing the struggles faced by her clients, McFadden focuses on three crucial areas to help cope with any sadness or anxiety stemming from the isolation as we gradually move toward herd immunity through vaccinations.
Firstly, she recommends that older adults engage in at least fifteen to twenty minutes of physical activity each day so their bodies get moving to keep them physically and mentally healthy.
Some older adults may be hesitant to attempt exercise.
Perhaps they worry about slipping on ice if they exercise outside, or falling inside the home. If this is a concern, McFadden recommends exercises that can be done while sitting in a chair.
If interested, seniors can seek instructional guides for chair exercises at their local senior center or public library. Such organizations will often mail guide materials directly, or offer curbside pickup.
Along with exercise, McFadden focuses on a second area to promote wellbeing: socializing safely. If seniors plan visits with friends or family members during this time, McFadden recommends following CDC guidelines for a safe interaction. This includes social distancing, wearing a mask, and meeting outside when weather permits.
There are also alternative platforms for social interaction which older adults can access with a basic understanding of technology, or with the help of a family member or friend. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is currently offering a service called GetSetUp Michigan, which includes free virtual small group classes on topics such as how to schedule and host Zoom videoconference meetings, and how to get started with Gmail, as well as information on COVID-19 vaccines.
“We’ve noticed that a lot of people have been kind of branching out of their comfort zones during this pandemic, and they want to try to use this technology,” McFadden said. “So, the GetSetUp Michigan is a really wonderful free resource for older adults because it helps teach them those independence skills in regards to technology.”
These skills enable seniors to attend social gatherings online.
For example, the Marquette Senior Center currently hosts virtual tai chi classes through Zoom. Plenty of other centers offer similar services. Those interested can reach out to local public libraries and senior centers. If desired, older adults can also reach out to religious organizations to see what kinds of events or outreach programs they may have planned.
Last but not least, McFadden said seniors must focus on nutrition. Some may have varying issues acquiring meals due to a number of barriers. She recommends utilizing resources such as Community Action Alger-Marquette or Meals on Wheels to get access to proper nutrition.
“We have to make sure we’re feeding our bodies well during this time, especially if you’re suffering from a financial instability due to the pandemic,” McFadden said.
Keeping these three central concerns of exercise, safe socialization, and nutrition in mind will help seniors cope with the difficult and stressful situation in which we find ourselves. Luckily, many resources are available, and older adults are encouraged to take advantage of them to assure their own wellbeing.
Akasha Khalsa is a student at Northern Michigan University, where she studies English literature and French. She is currently employed as a desk editor for the North Wind Independent Student Newspaper.
Excerpted with permission from the Spring 2021 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2021, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.