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We’re all living in an increased state of anxiety as the Covid-19 pandemic infections continue to head towards their peak in South Africa…

While we’re all at risk of contracting the virus, the elderly are more vulnerable, and are also more predisposed to mental health conditions during this stressful period. How can you support elderly relatives during the coronavirus pandemic?

Particularly if they don’t live with you, and according to the government regulations, you aren’t allowed to visit.

Auria Senior Living – a leading developer and operator of senior living communities in South Africa – knows the importance of mental care for seniors as a critical component of general wellness and has a few suggestions for managing anxiety and stress in the elderly.

1) Be selective about your media

Barry Kaganson, CEO of Auria Senior Living, says: “Being informed is important, but information overload can be a major cause of anxiety.”

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Ensure that your elderly loved ones have access to accurate information that can inform them, but don’t allow them to become panicked through a bombardment of ‘news’. If they’re on a family or community WhatsApp group, make sure that the information coming through doesn’t increase anxiety.

2) Stay in contact with friends and family – digitally!

Under South Africa’s lockdown rules, people have not been permitted contact with friends and family unless for exceptional circumstances.

“This has also been the case with Auria, where access to our communities by extended family members has been restricted and residents have been discouraged from leaving our communities too,” says Kaganson.

“Though we know how hard social distancing from loved ones can be, modern technology at least affords us the opportunity to maintain regular contact. Take advantage of the opportunity that technology gives us to stay in contact and keep those lines of communication open.”

stay in touch through technology
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3) Look for support groups or inspirational content

Social media has its appeal and usefulness, especially for connecting seniors with friends and family that they can’t otherwise see.

But a lot of news on these platforms can be negative and overwhelming, so curate the feed to deliver something supportive and useful rather than distressing. Find ways to boost positivity and share healthy coping skills on social forums or with others.

“Older people have often lived through trying times and are able to share helpful insights and wisdom with peers and even younger generations,” says Kaganson.

4) Exercise

The benefits of exercise for mental health are just as important as they are for physical health.

One of the best ways to feel good is to get regular exercise – even if it’s just for half an hour a few times a week. Movement is important at all ages and stages in life.

Getting outside and breathing fresh air, or doing some gardening can do the world of good both mentally and physically.

Make sure your elderly loved ones are able to get out of the house and exercise in a safe environment.

5) ‘Mental fitness’ can help

The benefits of staying mentally fit have long been known and recommended for older adults. Stressful situations have the ability to exacerbate conditions such as dementia which is significantly higher among people over the age of 80, so it’s important to keep the mind active and stimulated.

“Doing puzzles and word games or partaking in art or hobbies that encourage focus and the development of new skills, can help you keep mentally alert and potentially stave off the progression of dementia,” says Kaganson.

Playing games helps you stay mentally sharp as you age

6) Watch what you eat

Along with exercise and mental fitness, diet can play an enormous role in our mental wellbeing.

You don’t need expensive supplements or a complicated eating plan if you are otherwise healthy – just a good, balanced diet will do the trick.

If you aren’t able to visit your family in person, you could have healthy meals delivered to them, or you could have groceries delivered to their door if they prefer to do their own cooking. This helps limit their exposure to the virus in shopping centres, and ensures they are stocked up on healthy vitamins and minerals.

7) Know when to seek help

We are living through a time of unprecedented change. Whether you have concerns about physical symptoms you may be experiencing or whether you find yourself in a state of emotional distress, knowing when to seek help is key. The same goes for your loved ones.

“Since the primary focus at present is on limiting the spread of the coronavirus, seek medical advice if you are concerned that you or a family member may have it and don’t dismiss anxiety, depression or similar symptoms just because you think they aren’t life-threatening,” says Kaganson.

“Our children and significant others all pick up on our mental distress, so if your symptoms are interfering with your daily functioning or causing distress in your family, it is wise to seek counselling. In our communities, telephonic counselling and welfare calls take place daily to support residents during lockdown.”

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.