Judson Haims: Paralyzed by fear and apprehensive about reentering society
Getting back to a “normal,” pre-pandemic life may not be easy for anyone. However, for those we love who are older, there may be other concerns. As we enter spring and many of us are anxious to get out and enjoy the freedom to recreate and socialize, there are those who have become apprehensive — even fearful to do so. We need to replace fear with education.
Regardless of age, the social isolation that has resulted from COVID-19 has had an impact on individuals’ health and well-being. However, for the elderly who have been sheltering in place for over a year, the correlation is more direct and associated with higher mortality. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has provided data that states, “Social isolation was associated with about a 50% increased risk of dementia” and “68% increased risk of hospitalization.”
Further, COVID-19 has been anxiety-provoking for many people. Being both restricted from socialization and judged for doing so has made many people nervous about being in crowds, seeing family and reentering social circles once so familiar. Now that restrictions have subsided a bit, I hear from many families who are concerned and apprehensive about with whom they socialize and resuming once familiar activities.
According to data from the CDC, as of April 20, about 81% of adults age 65 and older had received at least one vaccine dose and nearly 66% were fully vaccinated. While the vaccine roll-out is proving to be effective and the vaccines will very likely keep us from becoming stricken with COVID-19, that doesn’t mean we can fully return to our pre-pandemic lifestyles.
Until then, we need to continue taking precautions (like wearing a mask and keeping distance) in certain situations. Over the coming months, things will start to look more and more like “normal,” but it won’t happen overnight and there may be bumps in the road along the way.
Although all of us have experienced prolonged isolation as we have sheltered in-place from COVID-19, for many seniors this lengthy period has caused both physical and cognitive concerns. After months of physical inactivity and less than great diets, many sheltered seniors have lost muscle mass. Getting it back can be quite challenging but integral for fall-risk prevention and an overall better quality of life.
Unfortunately, regaining physical abilities may be easier to overcome than regaining cognitive decline experienced by many seniors after such a long period of isolation. Prolonged isolation not only affects memory and verbal recall, but research has shown it also is associated with devastating effects on people’s emotional well-being and overall health. We are social creatures and in order to keep our heads straight, we need social interaction and physical activity.
After talking to many mental health professionals and medical providers in addition to reading much research, I feel the following may be some great suggestions for re-acclimating to a post COVID-19 world:
• Think about what you have missed most over the past year and develop a game plan to ease back at your own pace. Do not expect that jumping back to shopping or public events must happen right away. This should be a gradual process that is comfortably set on your own timeline.
• Get some physical activity. A walk down the street alone or with a friend may be a good start. For those who want to get out of the home, consider the fitness classes at the Avon Recreation Center from 10 a.m. to noon every Monday (970-328-8831).
• Consider your personal health, mental, and/or physical conditions(s). Everyone’s situation is different and the timing to get back to days old is unique and personal for everyone. If you push yourself and feel uncomfortable or anxious, odds are you’re not truly comfortable with what you’re doing.
• Journal your thoughts. Journaling can provide physical and emotional benefits. Additionally, it may help you identify stress-inducing thoughts, assist you in working through anxious feelings, and help you brainstorm for solutions. By committing goals into writing, you are more likely to achieve them.
• Stay connected and positive. Undisputed research has shown that being connected to others helps with stress, lifespan, and improves cognition.
We are still very much in times of unchartered waters. So, allow yourself a little latitude and be mindful of the transition back to socialization.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Aspen, Basalt, and Carbondale. He is an advocate for our elderly and is available to answer questions. His contact information is http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns or 970-328-5526.
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