By Amy Neu, MSW, LCSW
“I don’t know how else to put it, except these sure are some strange times.”
– 88 year-old client via phone at a nursing facility on lockdown due to COVID-19
A large part of my therapy practice has been with older adults who are homebound, elderly, and relatively isolated in their communities. Many of the issues that my elderly homebound navigate regularly now mirror the circumstances many of us are experiencing as we navigate life during the spread of COVID-19 (aka Coronavirus). The issues and difficulties that we now face include social distancing, strategies for spending longer stretches of time at home, and enhancing meaning and quality of life. There are lessons that we can learn from the experiences and positive coping strategies that our homebound loved ones have gained through their life experience and therapeutic work.
When I go to home visits with my homebound clients, I am able to walk into their world and quickly gauge how they are feeling and functioning. Over the past few months, many of these clients have wanted to discuss their anxiety and fears related to the news, particularly politics, elections, and public health issues, as soon as I walk in the door. After several minutes of talking about the news and exploring and expressing their emotions, then they are ready to focus on their lives and therapy. However, throughout the session, the topic of news and their uncertainties of the future will often surface again.
Many individuals who are homebound do not have the same access to talk with other people about the news, their fears, or the impact the news is having on them. Without an outlet to discuss and process their emotions, it becomes increasingly difficult for many homebound adults to break their cycle of anxiety alone. Homebound clients often face the additional disadvantages of isolation and physical or mental debility, which can further feed into their anxiety. At baseline, they already struggle with feelings of loss of control and safety. They find themselves in a position where they are unable to fully rely on themselves to meet their own needs. As they watch the daily turbulence unfold on television, one of their few windows to the outside world, this can further undermine their sense of safety and security, ultimately feeding their anxiety.
Many of us now find ourselves in a similar situation. At this time, Americans of all ages are concerned, anxious, or afraid of the spread of COVID-19, issues in our political system, and events around the world. As we follow the CDC’s recommendations for social distancing, our windows into our communities are found online and through the television. Our in-depth, in-person conversations are limited. Many of us are questioning our abilities to handle work, home, children, and our children’s education without outside resources. We are becoming relatively homebound.
Despite these obstacles, there are strategies for us all to alleviate our anxieties triggered by negative news and our period of increased social distance. The first tactic is to create, implement, and keep a daily routine. A consistent routine has numerous benefits for older and homebound adults. A basic routine creates structure, fosters a sense of control and security, and ensures that the individual’s needs are being met on a regular basis. Sample schedules for older adults are readily available online and can help caregivers facilitate conversations with their loved ones about their daily needs and routines. There are also google results for sample schedules for individuals working from home, homeschooling, and healthy routines in general.
The second tactic is to take breaks away from the television and the constant news cycle. These breaks can be built into the daily routine or can be taken as needed. It is important to disconnect and focus attention onto something that may reduce anxiety, foster feelings of productivity and self-reliance, and give the brain a break from the stimulation and negativity of the news. This time can be used for any number of things depending on abilities and interests. Common examples are: contacting a loved one, listening to music or a podcast, tending to a pet or houseplant, reading, exercise, or completing self-care tasks/activities of daily living.
If turning off the television or news notifications entirely is a struggle, then a third tactic is to simply change the channel when becoming overwhelmed or feeling stressed out by the news. With so many channels to choose from and the option for many of us to record or stream programs, changing to a light-hearted show can alleviate some of the anxiety that homebound adults experience while watching the 24-hour news cycle. The drawback to this option, however, is that it does not give the brain a chance to disconnect from the stimulation of the television/smartphone or provide the individual with the time to engage in a potential meaningful activity.
If you or a loved one are struggling to cope, please feel free to contact us to schedule a counseling appointment, at (314) 275-8599. We are currently offering sessions both by online telehealth platforms and by telephone, so that you can receive quality therapy from the safety of your own home. Our staff has experience working with individuals throughout the lifespan, from young children to the elderly. We look forward to the opportunity to help you through this difficult time.
Amy Neu, MSW, LCSW received her Masters in Social Work from the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University. Amy provides private therapy for adults, families, and seniors who are facing a variety of issues including depression, anxiety, grief, coping with medical issues, and end of life. She has significant experience counseling seniors, caregivers, and families within medical systems and during transitional periods from home to alternate levels of care.
In addition to Amy’s clinical practice, she provides on-site counseling and education to staff throughout the continuum of senior living communities.