Lifestyle & Management
Ease Isolation While You’re Practicing Social Distancing
To avoid the coronavirus, public health experts are advising people of all ages to stay home and practice social distancing as much as possible. This is particularly true for older adults and those with chronic medical conditions.
Those actions will go a long way to helping limit the spread of the virus and its impact on our health as well as on our health care systems, advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
But social distancing and staying home may put some at greater risk for the unintended consequence of social isolation, a health concern that can be avoided or reduced with proper, proactive steps.
According to the National Institute on Aging, social isolation and loneliness are linked to higher risks for a variety of health problems. These include high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and even death.
“Social isolation is very harmful to your health and contributes to poor health outcomes, especially for older adults,” says Laurie Theeke, PhD, a nursing professor at West Virginia University and a nurse practitioner at WVU Medicine, in Morgantown, West Virginia.
These steps can help you stay connected with others and prevent loneliness during the coronavirus pandemic.
Identify Your Vital Connections
These are the people that you view as essential to your health, well-being, and quality of life. They can be friends, neighbors, and family, suggests Dr. Theeke. Your health professionals may also be important to add to this list, but remember that they may be particularly busy at present. They also may want you to avoid their offices as much as possible to reduce your risks for becoming sick. Therefore, you should consider contacting them by phone as much as you can and only when needed.
Get Everyone’s Contact Information
Gather your connections’ phone numbers, mailing addresses, and email addresses. This makes it easy to stay in touch regularly with the people you care about by phone, email—and yes, even writing old-fashioned letters. Set up times to call friends and family and make staying in touch with each other a priority while you’re stuck at home.
Try to Have Up-to-Date Communications Equipment
“Do you have a cell phone?” asks Dr. Theeke. If so, consider using FaceTime or Skype rather than just calling. Being able to see your friend’s face can make you feel more connected. If you have a computer or tablet, you can join online groups of people who share your interests, notes Dr. Theeke. You may also consider setting up a schedule for when you’ll connect with friends and family to create a routine (and something to look forward to).
Social distancing doesn’t mean you have to stay inside. Take a walk, sit on the porch, wave to your neighbors. This is the perfect time to clean up your garden and to plant seeds.
Stay as Physically Active as Possible
You can find many different fitness programs online. Find some excellent suggestions here.
Some people are enjoying virtual dinners with each other. They use FaceTime or Zoom, which is a free app that allows you to connect several people to a video conference. Or talk to friends about reading the same book or watching the same movie so you can group-chat about it later. Also, this is a great time to practice your favorite crafts, such as needlework, scrapbooking, knitting, or crocheting. “We know that engaging in creative activities can prevent feelings of loneliness,” says Dr. Theeke.
Educate Yourself About Your Local Healthcare Options
Find out now how your healthcare providers are taking care of their patients, and what to do if you need a COVID-19 test. You may be able to get a telephone or online health visit, get a test at a drive-through facility, or email your provider with questions.
Upgrade Your Basic Self-Care Habits
This is a time to make sure you’re eating well. “Vegetables and fruits contribute to hormones that make you happy,” says Dr. Theeke. Try to get to bed and wake up at the same time every day and do your best to stay active. Even a walk around the block is helpful.
Keep in Touch with Loved Ones in Long-Term Care
Ask the staff if you can email pictures or letters that can be printed out and “delivered” to your person. Consider asking the staff to help you FaceTime a loved one, advises Dr. Theeke.
Deal with Caregiver Isolation
Caregiving itself can be isolating, notes Dr. Theeke, and practicing social distancing can make you feel even more alone. Try connecting with other caregivers through virtual support groups online. Some are specific for caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s disease or other illnesses.
Try to Dial Down the Bad News
“Too much bad news can overwhelm your emotions,” says Dr. Theeke. Consider tuning in just once or twice a day for only 10 or 15 minutes. Then turn off the news and focus on activities that help you stay happy and positive, she advises.
Call a Hotline if You Need Someone to Talk to About How You’re Feeling
If you are feeling overwhelmed, the CDC recommends using the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) Disaster Distress Helpline:
- Phone: 1-800-985-5990
- Text: text TalkWithUs to 66746.
- TTY: 1-800-846-8517
Managing Stress and Anxiety
It’s hard to escape news updates about coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The constant headlines may make some people anxious. In particular, older adults, people with chronic health conditions, and caregivers are likely to be at higher risk for increased stress and anxiety, since they face a higher risk of illness if they contract the virus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), here’s what stress during an infectious disease outbreak can look like:
- Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones
- Changes in sleeping or eating habits
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
- Worsening of chronic health problems
- Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs
You may not be able to control the virus, but you can help control your emotional reaction to it. Here are some smart strategies from the CDC to help you manage your anxiety:
Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including on social media. Hearing about the pandemic over and over can be upsetting.
Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Here’s a free guide on how to meditate from Mindful magazine.
Exercise regularly. For older adults, the CDC recommends aiming for 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity activity such as brisk walking. Do walk outside on nice days but avoid crowded places and make sure to maintain a six-foot distance between you and others. Wash your hands when you get home.
Get plenty of sleep. Following these simple sleep tips can help you relax into a good night’s sleep.
Relax by doing activities you enjoy. Try crossword or jigsaw puzzles, get outside and garden if you can, cook healthy meals and freeze some for later, and seek out TV shows to watch that give you pleasure. Explore your library’s online offerings.
Connect with others. You may not be able to socialize in person for a while, but many older adults are turning to video chat options such as FaceTime visits on their smartphone, Skype calls, and Zoom calls. These virtual visits are the next best thing to spending time in person with friends and family.
Find virtual support. If you already have issues with your mental health or substance use, you may find it even harder to cope right now. Many in-person groups are holding online meetings to provide each other with mutual support:
- Alcoholics Anonymous
- SMART Recovery (for any substance use or addictive behavior)
- Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) (for any mental health condition)
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) (for any mental health condition)
If your stress reactions are interfering with your life for 2 weeks in a row or longer, call your healthcare provider.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746. (TTY 1-800-846-8517).
Avoiding COVID-19 Scams
Unfortunately, some people—including criminals—often look for opportunities to take advantage of others during times of national crisis. The current COVID-19 pandemic creates a perfect environment for lawbreakers who may be targeting vulnerable victims. Very often, their targets may be older adults.
Here are some effective defenses to help stop criminals in their tracks. Arm yourself with these smart strategies to protect yourself and your family against scammers.
Make sure to fact-check all the COVID-19 information you receive. Don’t share any messages about the virus on social media or email—or even in conversation with friends and loved ones—unless you verify the information is from a trusted source. Look to government agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), or the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). If you’re unsure about a news item or piece of information, use a fact-checking website such as www.snopes.com.
You get a call that seems to be coming from the CDC. It’s a plea for a donation to them during this time of crisis. But in reality, this is “government impersonation fraud,” say CDC officials.
“Federal agencies do not request donations from the general public,” says the CDC. Other phone frauds include fake coronavirus treatments, vaccinations, work-at-home schemes, or opportunities to provide personal protective gear and cleaning products. Some scammers may also call claiming to be friends or relatives who need immediate financial assistance related to COVID-19.
- Do not take calls from phone numbers you don’t recognize.
- Never give out your personal information, banking information, Social Security number, or any other information over the phone or to strangers.
- Hang up on robocalls. Don’t press any numbers. The recording might say that pressing a number will remove you from their call list or send you to a live operator, but it could lead to even more robocalls.
CDC officials are warning consumers about a widespread campaign of “phishing” emails that claim to be from the CDC and mention a flu pandemic. The email instructs you to open a document that supposedly tells you how to prevent the spread of the disease.
If you get an email like this, know that it came from hackers trying to gain access to your personal computer files, as well as files on networks you’re connected to. After you open the attachment, you may get a note demanding some type of payment to remove the virus from your computer.
You should also pay careful attention to web links you click or find from search results. Never trust websites claiming to be from the government if they don’t end in .gov. Websites using .org or .edu are also among the safest to use, since those types of links are used by non-profits or educational institutions like universities. Be the most wary of .com websites, since these can be set up by almost anyone.
- Never open unsolicited emails or attachments from people you don’t know.
- DO NOT CLICK ON ANY LINKS OR ATTACHMENTS in the email or visit websites that seem unfamiliar or have strange web addresses.
- Never share personal information, especially passwords or account numbers, with anyone via email.
Beware of Fake COVID-19 Testing
The FDA is actively and aggressively monitoring for any companies that may be selling products for fraudulent coronavirus (COVID-19) testing, prevention, and treatment. As a result of these activities, the agency is beginning to see fake test kits being marketed to test for COVID-19 in the home.
“Get Your Stimulus Check Early” Scams
Anyone who tells you they can get your government stimulus check related to COVID-19 early is scamming you, too. Don’t respond to any calls or emails promising an early check, advises the FTC.