Supporting Seniors & Elderly

7 Helpful Strategies to Support Seniors

BY LAVANYA SUGUMAR & DR CHEONG WEI QIANG, KENNY

1 July 2020  |   5 min read

The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for everyone. However, seniors aged 60 and older, especially those with pre-existing medical conditions, are more vulnerable to contracting the severe — possibly deadly — COVID-19 infection than other age groups.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO)1, more than 95% of COVID-19 deaths were among people over 60 years of age, and more than half of all deaths occurred in people above 80 years of age.

Seniors are also among the most affected by safe distancing measures intended to slow the spread of COVID-19 as they have less social, physical, and emotional support from family, friends and the community.

In addition, seniors may experience heightened anxiety levels if they live alone. They could also have undiagnosed or poorly managed mental health conditions. It is therefore important that we help them to manage their stress levels.

The following are some strategies that may be useful to support seniors during this challenging period.

1) Communicate and display support

It is important to check on seniors regularly on how they are feeling during this current situation2. This can be a challenging and uncertain time. It is helpful to understand the worries that they are experiencing, including how they are managing changes to their routine. Show support for them and let them know that help is available.

2) Engaging and keeping elderly involved

As seniors are advised to stay home where possible, it would be helpful to keep them engaged at home and involve them in a variety of different activities and projects that they can do3. These can include organising old photos, writing down stories of memories, picking up new activities/interests together with the family, organising the home together, or cooking a family recipe.

It is also useful to encourage seniors to continue routine activities that are feasible during this time (e.g. a walk to the park, light stretching at home, listening to or playing music, reading, playing puzzles, meditation or prayer)1.

It is also useful to encourage seniors to continue routine activities that are feasible during this time.

3) Increase social connectedness

Social distancing is likely to increase the risk of social isolation for many seniors. Hence, it is important to get seniors more connected to increase their engagement. If possible, caregivers can guide seniors to use video chats to connect to their loved ones3. Furthermore, caregivers can help seniors access online services to increase their connectedness and emotional support (e.g. writing emails, calling them on the telephone, talking via videoconference, send them videos to watch via email, send photos or drawings from children via email, or to the facility where they are).

During this difficult period, having regular contact with a neighbour or meal delivery personnel can be helpful. Caregivers can also encourage family and friends outside of the household to call to speak to seniors4.

4) Prepare and plan as a family

Caregivers are recommended to involve seniors in discussions of how the family will manage interruptions or changes during this time. Being prepared, planning, and talking things through ahead of time as a family can reduce stress and help people feel more involved and prepared3; 4. It can be useful to think about how you and your family (including the senior) have gotten through difficulties in the past and whether these skills might help them get through the current situation.

5) Keep updated of facts from official sources, and avoid excessive media exposure

Although it is important to be informed about the current situation, constant consumption of information can make seniors feel more anxious. It is advisable to try to limit how often seniors are exposed to news updates and ensure that they obtain factual information from reliable sources4. Some of these websites are www.gov.sg and www.moh.gov.sg.

Seniors should be reminded not to open any suspicious attachments or click on links, and to delete the messages that might be out to scam them4. They should also take regular breaks from media exposure and conversations on COVID-19 so that they can focus their mind and spend their time on other things.

6) Offer practical help

Some practical help that seniors may need from friends, family, or carers include picking up their medications, helping them buy food (e.g. offer to deliver groceries), doing tasks around their house, getting information on COVID-19 (e.g. offer to set up videoconferencing technologies on their computer/tablet), getting information on where and how to get medical help5.

7) Refer to General Practitioners or Mental Health professionals

In the event that the senior is not coping well or is becoming overly isolated, it is advisable to seek help from their GPs, or encourage them to speak with a mental health professional.

Another option is to call the Agency for Integrated Care Hotline at 1800-650-6060, which can provide seniors with financial and emotional assistance. Alternatively, they may call the National CARE Hotline at 1800-202-6868 for psychological and emotional care.

 

The contributors are Clinical Psychologists in the Clinical and Forensic Psychology Service (CFPS) at the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).

 

References

1 World Health Organisation (2020). Mental health and psychosocial considerations during the COVID-19 outbreak. Retrieved from
https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/331490/WHO-2019-nCoV-MentalHealth-2020.1-eng.pdf

2 Moutier, Christine. (2020). COVID-19: We Must Care for Older Adults’ Mental Health. Retrieved from
https://afsp.org/story/covid-19-we-must-care-for-older-adults-mental-health

3 Arbaje, Alicia. (2020). Coronavirus and COVID-19: Caregiving for the Elderly. Retrieved from
https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus/coronavirus-caregiving-for-the-elderly

4 Australian Psychological Society. (2020). Coronavirus (COVID-19) anxiety and staying mentally healthy: For Older Adults. Retrieved from
https://www.psychology.org.au/getmedia/5f9cc6d4-ad5c-4b02-8b7f-d4153cb2ba2b/20APS-IS-COVID-19-Public-Older-adults_1.pdf

5 HelpAge International. (2020). COVID-19:Guidance and advice for older people. Retrieved from
https://gerocentral.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Covid-19-Guidance-and-advice-for-older-people.pdf