Keeping seniors active, avoiding depression during a pandemic

Posted at 6:13 PM, Jun 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-23 19:13:19-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The coronavirus pandemic is taking a mental and emotional toll on senior citizens.

Saint Luke's Health System psychologist Dr. Kadie Harry said she's seen an increase in depression, anxiety, stress and fear among seniors since social isolation began.

"Even before COVID-19 there was a lot of literature that we've examined that show loneliness and social isolation were already really high rates in this population," Harry said.

Harry said frequent phone calls and virtual visits are important for family members to stay connected with loved ones in assisted living communities or living alone at home. She said getting creative with activities can help prevent depression and social isolation as well, such as safe outdoor activities.

"Often times as humans we are very resilient and after a certain amount of time we do adjust to, 'okay, now I'm finding fun ways to connect with my family members on video,'" Harry said.

Harry said family members should be on the lookout for significant changes in behavior in their elderly relatives, such as not wanting to get out of bed or answer the phone.

"That might be a good time to check in with a therapist or psychologist," Harry said. "We have many here who offer virtual visits so if they want to see someone from the comfort of their own home, we also offer in-person visits."

Mendi Hanna, director of sales for Saint Luke's Bishop Spencer Place, said staff are working hard to keep residents active with fun activities and one-on-one time.

"We're just trying to step in and provide the love for all of our residents," Hanna said.

Hanna said the lack of socialization with family and friends has had a clear effect on residents.

The retirement community is working on Phase 1 of its reopening plan next month. It is looking at a few pilot programs, such as limited dining based on social distancing, a visitor section and exercise classes.