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Mental Health in a Crisis: How Seniors Can Stay Healthy

As we move through the second month of the coronavirus crisis, our top priority at Brandermill Woods is maintaining the physical safety of our residents—cleaning and distancing to keep the virus out of our community. But as time moves on, we also are focused on mental wellbeing. This once-in-a-lifetime crisis can take an emotional toll. Sometimes a tough day is just a tough day, but other times you may need extra support. Here are a few guidelines and resources for distinguishing between the two.

Is it normal to feel this way?

The National Council on Aging (NCOA) advises that depression, anxiety, addiction, and other mental health issues are not just another part of aging. These are disorders that require treatment. Getting that treatment can make a tremendous difference in how you feel.

The truth is that one in five older adults will experience depression, anxiety and dementia at some point. According to NCOA’s Center for Healthy Aging, the most common conditions include anxiety, severe cognitive impairment, and mood disorders (such as depression or bipolar disorder).

So, you are not alone if you are dealing with one of these issues. And there is tremendous hope in treatment.

How do I know if I need help?

Anytime you have a concern about your health, it’s wise to consult your physician. However, if you are experiencing one of the following symptoms, it’s especially important to reach out:

  • Not taking as much care with one’s dress, home or yard
  • Showing signs of confusion or disorientation and difficulty with concentration or decision-making
  • Decrease or increase in appetite
  • A change in mood lasting longer than two weeks.
  • Feeling worthless, guilty or helpless; thoughts of suicide
  • Memory loss, especially recent or short-term memory problems
  • Physical problems that can’t otherwise be explained such as aches or constipation
  • Loss of interest in things that used to be enjoyable
  • Social withdrawal
  • Difficulty handling finances or working with numbers
  • Unexplained fatigue, energy loss or sleep changes

Even if you don’t feel comfortable going into a doctor’s office right now, many physicians are offering telehealth options in which you can speak to a physician through video chat.

How can I stay mentally healthy?

While some disorders require medical intervention, we all can work to stay mentally healthy. Especially in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, it is important to cultivate these habits:

  • Stay on the move. Even with stay-at-home orders, you can go for a daily walk, do an online workout or lift weights at home. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association found that just one 60-minute dance class a week led to significant improvements in depression symptoms.
  • Stay connected. Phone a friend. Text with a grandchild. Do a video chat with a loved one. Write a letter to an old friend.
  • Stay up on technology. Today’s tech tools are more intuitive than ever. Don’t be intimidated. You can Zoom too!
  • Stay a learner. While you may want to limit your daily intake of news, it’s important to keep growing and learning. Read or listen to a book. Watch a YouTube video on how to make a new dish.
  • Stay engaged. Whether it’s learning a new game or adopting a pet, do something that brings you joy.
  • Stay soulful. Whatever your religion, spend some time on your spiritual health each day. Read, meditate, and pray.

Keep well and keep moving. Cheers to your good health — body, mind and spirit!