A Guide For Seniors On Coping In The Age Of Coronavirus

Take a walk, but remember to stay 6 feet away from the nearest person.

For about six million Californians 65 and up, life has gotten a lot harder.

Last weekend, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that seniors and people with chronic illnesses need to stay home to protect themselves from the novel coronavirus.

While public health experts agree that self-isolation and social distancing during this time is extremely important, they're also worried about the toll it can take on seniors' mental health and well-being.

Let's be honest: it's probably going to be tough. But here are some tips for surviving — hopefully, even thriving — while stuck at home.

GET DIGITALLY CONNECTED

Many seniors depend on activities at senior centers and volunteer work to keep them active and social.

But public health experts like Dr. Anna Chodos, professor of medicine and geriatrics at UCSF, say there are many other ways to connect with people without being physically present.

She encourages seniors to call the Institute on Aging's Friendship Line. It's a hotline where older people can make a friend over the phone and have someone to talk to if they are lonely.

"It's a good resource to give people if they can't get in touch with their families," Dr. Chodos said.

She's also encouraging family members of isolated seniors to "please call them regularly." Also, if your older family member doesn't know how to use video functions like FaceTime, help them figure it out. (Here's Apple's handy guide. There's also Skype, Facebook video chat and Google Hangouts).

KEEP VOLUNTEERING AND EXERCISING, BUT CHANGE IT UP

If you're a senior who has a regular volunteer job that is now on hold, why not see if there's a way to help out online or over the phone?

Also, since going to the gym or a workout class is currently not an option, Dr. Lisa Gibbs, chief of geriatrics at UC Irvine School of Medicine, recommends finding a workout online or from streaming programs like Netflix. The National Institute on Aging has an exercise campaign called Go4Life that includes online video workouts. Here's a sample:

Or ... get outside! For now, local public health officials have not prohibited outdoor excercise. So take a walk. Just make sure you are six feet away from other people and avoid body fluids.

Gardening or excercising in your yard, if you have one, are also good options.

THAT EPIC NOVEL YOU'VE BEEN MEANING TO WRITE

It's a great time to pick up hobbies that have been on the backburner for a while, such as learning to play a musical instrument or taking an online class. Check out AARP's guide to online learning.

Jeannette, 68, from Fullerton told KPCC's AirTalk she's taking advantage of her free schedule to write a book.

TACKLING ANXIETY

There's isolation. And then there's being stuck in a small space with your whole family. Kenneth Wiatrak, 68, lives with his wife and two teenagers in a one-bedroom apartment in Studio City.

"How do you self isolate when there's no room to isolate?" he wondered.

Wiatrak is also the primary source of income for his family. He works as a photographer and a cameraman, and he's concerned about missing work and not being able to pay the bills.

"What's my chance of keeping working and not contracting the disease versus other ways to make ends meet?" Wiatrak asked.

Doctors are concerned that anxiety will affect seniors in the coming weeks. During this critical period, health experts are encouraging seniors to stay in touch with their health care provider.

Seniors shouldn't be afraid to tell their doctor that they are stressed out, Dr. Chodos said. She said there are a lot of mental health resources by phone that doctors can provide.

The news itself can be anxiety-inducing. Don't sit in front of the television watching news about COVID-19 all day, Dr. Gibbs said. She recommended choosing one trusted source and checking only once or twice a day for updates.

WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP?

If you're younger and in good health, there are many ways to help without compromising a senior's health (or your own):

  • Pick up the phone and call a senior.
  • Knock on your elderly neighbor's door and ask what you can do for them. (Do they need groceries? Need their dog walked? Trash taken out?)
  • Make a care package with things like food, books, puzzles.
  • Volunteer for senior programs like Meals on Wheels.

Have more questions? Watch a Q&A about coronavirus and seniors with Kim McCoy Wade, director of the state Department of Aging, moderated by CalMatters reporters Ana Ibarra and Judy Lin:

SOME STRAIGHT TALK ABOUT COVID-19


We're all living through this extraordinary and frightening pandemic. The vast majority of our newsroom has been working from home (here's some advice on that) since March 11 to bring you calm, helpful reporting. We are answering your questions and taking more.


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