Being an elderly means much more than being simply over 60. It means that as you get older, you experience a number of changes and losses in your life in both the arena of your body and of psychological health. As you grow older, the main transition one gets to experience is retirement and what this means in terms or how to plan and structure your time during the day. This also leads one to re-define himself. If previously the career or job was giving a sense to one’s purpose or self-definition, or it was the person’s main drive, this needs to be re-defined and a new purpose needs to be established.
Another aspect is when social circles decrease with age, which may result from the increased chance of people in your circle to develop long-term health conditions and even the increased chance of dying. This also means that there is a greater probability that one’s partner or close relatives such as siblings, parents and cousins might not be present anymore. Thus, in normal circumstances, feeling lonely and living alone, is a common happenstance for the older individual. What does this bring about during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic when social distancing and social isolation are affecting everyone?
According to a number of research focusing on geriatric mental health, it is important to acknowledge the impact that social isolation is having on the elderly who previously may have kept contact with others through encounters such as shopping for daily needs, community groups and also by being part of some type of religious group (Stamu-O’Brien et al, 2020; Roy et al, 2020). This contact is also reduced if they are being more cautious and avoiding meeting with their children and their school-aged children which may pose a risk of exposing them to the virus.
Other individuals who are at risk of feeling lonely and more isolated, are those who live in residential homes. Currently in Malta visitation is quite limited in such settings, avoiding physical contact and having a set time frame available, after booking, to spend with your loved one. This means that:
- Physical contact, an aspect which is quite important for mental health and to combat depression and anxiety, is reduced significantly.
- There is also a greater chance that individuals living in residential homes may find it more difficult to be in control of what information to access with regards to the pandemic. If they are exposed to sensational journalism or reporting, even from the people they are encountering which includes other residents or members of staff, this may mean that they may be feeling more anxious and negative towards the situation in general. Creating paranoia and uncertainty even when their relatives are visiting them. This increase in anxiety is of detriment to them and, as explained by Roy et al (2020), ‘the older population were more likely to be overwhelmed by the negative news inducing deeper fears, anxiety and inspiring less confidence in life, again confirming that the older are disproportionately affected’.
- When added to the fact that in these settings there is a greater chance of other residents passing away due to the virus, it also adds to the worry and being exposed to the feeling of threat from dying from this virus, which can be rather traumatic especially if it is being experienced regularly and for a stretch of time.
Another ostracizing factor would be the fact that not everyone from this population is comfortable with technology and thus is not able to access the right information or aren’t able to keep in touch with their loved ones.
This seems to be quite a dark period for the elderly who cannot reach out and may be considered at a higher risk and increased vulnerability to the symptoms and illnesses caused by the coronavirus disease.
In my next blog, ‘Being an Elderly during the COVID-19 Festive Season, I shall be discussing further ways in which one can support the elderly during these times, especially during the upcoming festive season.
Abigail Church is a Humanistic Integrative Counsellor who works with adults and children through counselling with Willingness. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 79291817.
Stamu-O’Brien, C., Carniciu, S., Halvorsen, E. & Jefferany, M. (2020) Psychological Aspects of COVID-19. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology 19:2169-2173
Brooke, J. & Jackson, D. (2020) Older People and COVID-19: Isolation, Risk and Ageism. Journal of Clinical Nursing. Editorial
Roy, J., Jain, R., Golaman, R., Vunnam, R. and Sahu, N. (2020) COVID-19 in the Geriatric Population. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. 1-5