Extending compassion to our elderly during COVID-19.


By Juhee Jhalani, PhD

A journey to foster self-love and compassion: Week 6.

A weekly anxiety management practice during COVID-19 pandemic, by a psychologist. 

This week in our journey of love and compassion we bring along our elders. While we continue to learn about the virus and ways of coping with the pandemic, we are becoming more aware that older adults with prior medical conditions are at greater risks of suffering severe symptoms.  It is natural for the elderly and their caregivers to experience anxiety and fear at this time. Address fear by taking control, staying prepared and calmly responding. This week we are discussing some handy tips and coping strategies such that we can assist our elderly and their caregivers feel more competent and connected with one another as we navigate these challenging times together.

Stay simple and be clear in language when discussing the pandemic. It can be really difficult and heartbreaking for the elderly to understand the risk factors and the seriousness of COVID-19. The elderly who are living in assisted living homes or senior centers may not be able to see their loved ones anymore. They may feel powerless, as most of them have never experienced something like this before. It may be increasingly difficult for seniors with cognitive impairments, hearing problems and memory problems like Dementia to understand the context of the extreme precautionary measures that are being taken at this time. As a caregiver, be self-compassionate and acknowledge that caregiving is difficult; it is an extraordinary act of love. Maintain your calmness and patience and explain in practical ways the meaning of terms like ‘quarantine’ or ‘social distancing’. Encourage simple behaviors like hand washing, sanitizing, and model good hygiene in front of them and show them how to maintain social distance rather than overwhelm them verbally with just new facts or information.

 Social distancing does not mean social isolation. If you have decided to maintain physical distance with your elderly family members, then make time for them and prioritize to stay connected with them via phone calls or video chats. Be patient and walk them through the process of setting a video call. It is worth the effort! Loneliness is a silent killer; it increases the risk for depression and anxiety for everyone. Help them create a life of purpose and meaning during this time. Our need to be with our loved ones may be stronger than ever now. Acknowledge and address this need in creative ways. Schedule a virtual family meeting or a story time with their grandchildren, maybe take a trip down the memory lane together, social distanced birthday parties or online anniversary celebration can continue to instill joy and create a novel memory. Plan a drive-by greeting time with them if it is possible. The good old snail mail has its own charm. When you decide to write a handwritten letter or post a greeting card with a note, it stays with them forever and they can revisit it as needed and be reminded that they are loved and not forgotten. A simple text with an old picture of good old times together can rekindle and solidify connections. Be creative and invite openness.

Probe them to eat healthily and keep moving. Share new or old family recipes and maybe create a socially distanced family meal time or cook out together. Remind them the importance of good nutrition and exercise. If you are comfortable enough then maybe self-disclose your exercise routine and include them in your fitness journey via a virtual exercise sequence class or a yoga class. With the beautiful summer weather upon us, take advantage of the outdoors with them. Plan a socially distanced walk or a hike together. Make sure to take proper precautionary measures at all times though.

‘Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself’. During these times when family members, domestic help and home health aides are distanced. Ensure to reach out to the elderly neighbors in your community. A social distanced chat in the park, lobby or from your apartment corridor or balcony is a good way to connect with them. Every small connection matters at this time. If possible, offer to bring them groceries or order online items for them. An unexpected treat or a meal can cheer their mood up and make you feel fulfilled and compassionate. Check in with your neighbors via texts or phone calls or notes on a regular basis. Help them maintain necessary medical and domestic supplies. Offer to procure and maintain supplies of masks, eye protection, tissues, gloves, soap, hand sanitizers and household cleaning products and do your part in preventing the spread of COVID-19 in your community.

Do help out in the local community centers or the outreach programs as much as possible. Many religious and community centers are closed for gatherings but they are offering necessary food, grocery and household supplies to the community members. Please volunteer your services or contribute to these organizations via cash or kind. Educate the elderly about the available resources. It is everyone’s business to care for the elderly at this time.

If you are a direct caregiver to an elderly member and have been diagnosed with COVID-19, please take all necessary precautions, seek medical attention and self-quarantine yourself. Wear a mask at home and sanitize your household religiously. Seek additional help if possible from a friend, family member or a paid caregiver to step in. Know your limits, be a cognizant caregiver and protect yourself from caregiver burnout.

While COVID-19 related medical concerns take a priority in our medical system, please ensure to address the non COVID-19 concerns mindfully and promptly. Stay cognizant about the physical wellbeing of our seniors. Medication management and urgent elective procedure should be addressed as needed. Please consult with your geriatrician, primary care provider, or a medical specialist via tele-medicine and take an informed decision about their medical care rather than coming up with a medical conclusion on your own.

Finally, regardless of your relationship with the elderly members in your family or your community this is the time to step up, put your differences aside, and support them as much as possible. Know your limits and do what you can to lift each other up during these moments of crisis. Do your part in preventing the spread of the virus. The curve is flattening every day. Be cautious and compassionate and this shall pass too.

Vision for Week 7: We look forward to extending our compassion to the pregnant women in our community during the pandemic.

Image courtesy of thesatimes |

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