A recent four-month COVID-19 study conducted by the Canadian Red Cross, with an emphasis on vulnerable seniors over the age of 65, found that the social and psychological impact of distancing to avoid contracting the virus has also resulted in worsening physical and emotional health.
According to a recent Red Cross press release, the study tracked more than 2,000 Canadians over the age of 18 between April and July. The findings highlight the need for policies and practices that better meet the needs of seniors who are living alone and are in fair or poor health both during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond. Nearly a third of vulnerable older adults reported they felt they did not have anyone they could count on if they needed help immediately. More than 30 percent said they felt lonely frequently or every day and only 57 percent said they experienced good self-esteem. Just 50 percent of seniors surveyed said they felt hopeful about the future.
Vulnerable seniors surveyed reported feeling lonely at three times the rate of their healthier peers and although self-isolation may protect older adults from the coronavirus, social distancing has also left frail older adults with feelings of anxiety, sadness, depression or hopelessness. Prolonged social isolation can also contribute to a greater risk for cognitive decline and deteriorating health.
Not only do seniors living alone need help making sure the kitchen is stocked with nutritious food, but friends, family, and social services must be watchful of signs of depression including loss of appetite and weight, irritability, changes in sleep habits, behavioral changes or a loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed. When hopelessness sets in, older adults may stop picking up the house or completing repairs which can lead to an increase in tripping hazards.
Although in-person visits with friends and family may not always be possible, with a little creativity, loved ones can help ensure vulnerable seniors feel socially connected and supported. A daily, or weekly video chat can be part of the plan, or while the weather is nice, a picnic lunch outdoors at a safe distance can help older adults feel more hopeful about the future.