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Sharp Health News

COVID-19 coping tools for older adults

July 22, 2020

Older woman with crossword puzzle
Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) removed 65 as the age for when COVID-19 risk increases, saying there isn’t an exact cutoff age at which people should be concerned. However, experts still emphasize that older adults with chronic health conditions are more likely than others to experience severe illness related to the disease and must continue to take precautions to limit their potential exposure.

These precautions include:
  • Washing hands often with soap and water or using a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol
  • Practicing social distancing of at least 6 feet from others
  • Wearing a face covering when outside of your home
  • Regularly disinfecting high-touch surfaces
One of the most important precautions advised — stay home unless you need to leave for essential reasons, such as to receive medical care, shop for groceries or pick up prescription medications — means older adults find themselves isolated more than usual, which can affect both mental and physical health.

In order to cope with these challenges, Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital’s older adult programs recommend that people — both young and older — would benefit by remembering the “4Ms.” The 4Ms — mindfulness, meaningful connection, movement and mastery — can help you cope when confronting profound challenges such as the pandemic, which can lead to depression, anxiety, loneliness and fear.

The 4Ms

Mindfulness is the awareness that emerges through paying attention, working to stay focused and in the present moment, and reacting non-judgmentally to things as they are. Mindfulness and self-compassion therapy is effective in improving resilience as well as decreasing anxiety, avoidance and negative self-focus in older adults.

Practice your mindfulness by performing one of these three easy activities:
  • Stop for a moment and take note of how each breath you take feels as it travels in, through and out of your body.
  • Focus on the tastes and textures you’re experiencing during every bite of a meal.
  • Throughout the day, pause for a minute to identify what you see, hear, smell and feel.
Meaningful connection
Every single person is worthy of connection and being known — including you. A meaningful connection includes being emotionally vulnerable and open with someone, showing affection to them and receiving it in return, and knowing that you can count on one another.

We can meaningfully connect in marriage, friendship, and relationships with our children and with our neighbors. This can happen in person or by text, email, phone call, mail and video chats.

Reach out when you want to connect, to check in on someone you care about or to ask for help. You will find people who have the capacity and desire to build meaningful relationships. And if you haven’t found them yet, keep looking — because they’re worth it, and so are you!

Any type of movement and stretching that you can do in the comfort of your home or around your garden or yard — as permitted by your doctor — is helpful to prevent restlessness and maintain muscle and joint health.

Physical movement can also help decrease the risk of some of the main health issues facing seniors, such as heart disease, high blood pressure and arthritis. Other benefits include:
  • Improved balance, coordination and flexibility
  • Reduced risk of falling and fracturing bones
  • Increased oxygen to the brain to promote better cognitive functioning
  • Decreased risk of osteoporosis
Don’t forget your brain health. Taking care of your brain is just as important as taking care of your body. Much like your body benefits from physical exercise, your brain benefits from mental exercise.

With added time at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, now is an excellent time to engage in activities that will exercise your brain. Try your hand at puzzles, word searches, crosswords and other “brain games” each day. This type of stimulation can help boost your attention, verbal fluency, memory and other cognitive areas.

Talk to your doctor if you or a loved one are experiencing excessive sadness, anxiety or worry for an extended period. Call 911 if anyone, including yourself, may be at risk for self-harm or suicide. Learn more about older adult mental health services at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital and read important COVID-19 information from Sharp.

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