Health Tips from a specialist to take care of the...

Tips from a specialist to take care of the mental health of older adults in a pandemic

By Julián Bustín, head of the Memory and Gerontopsychiatry Clinic of the Institute of Cognitive Neurology (INECO).

One of the most important challenges during preventive and compulsory social isolation is preserving the mental health of the entire population. This challenge is even more complex in older people because they are the most vulnerable in case of becoming ill with COVID 19 and therefore it is essential that they can comply with preventive and compulsory social isolation.

It is important to understand that older people already know that they are the most vulnerable to COVID 19 and that preventive and compulsory social isolation is going to be particularly long for them, adding more uncertainty regarding their future. Therefore, it is essential that they know the most tools to take care of their own mental health.

The metal overlying this toolbox has two fundamental concepts for older adults. The first is that the preventive and compulsory social isolation that is talked about so much is a physical distancing, which in no way should be confused with a distancing from affections or personal activities or projects. The second fundamental concept is that mental health and physical health are intertwined. We should never underestimate the importance of this relationship.

For this reason, these tools must be used in an innovative way during this challenging period. These tools have already been tested in different situations and have scientific evidence to back them up:

– Keep the mind active and carry out pleasant tasks (reading, listening to music, cooking, learning something new). Promote all actions and projects related to spirituality, solidarity and empathy. We know that at higher levels of well-being and at lower levels of stress, greater life expectancy.

– Maintain social contact with family, friends and neighbors virtually or by phone. Loneliness is defined as the difference between the social relationships that one would like to have and those that one really considers one has. Loneliness can lead to pictures of depression and anxiety. It can also decrease the functioning of the immune system, increase the risk of high blood pressure and strokes.

– Maintain a good personal care routine (cognitive stimulation, physical activity, healthy diet, adequate rest, personal hygiene and control of cardiovascular risk factors). A study recently published in the Lancet magazine, shows that doing some of these healthy habits can reduce the possibility of developing Alzheimer’s disease by up to 30%.

– Maintain connection with your own feelings and share them with loved ones. Being able to share what you feel is a form of first aid for mental health in times of crisis.

– Request and accept both emotional and logistical help whether or not it comes from the family circle. This reduces anxiety by stopping the feeling that you have to face everything that is happening to you and is going to happen to you.

– Find out from official and reliable sources while avoiding over-information and regulating the time spent on information about covid 19.

– Actively fight against old age (set of prejudices, stereotypes and discriminations that apply to older people simply based on their age). Since one of the keys to preserving the mental health of older adults is to maintain personal identity and their role in the family and society.

We are all part of encouraging older people to use these tools to preserve their mental health during preventive and compulsory social isolation. The challenge belongs to everyone. (Tellam).

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