Millions of older Americans are similarly struggling with physical, emotional, and cognitive challenges following a year of being cooped up inside, stopping usual activities, and seeing few, if any, people.
If they don’t address issues that have arisen during the pandemic such as muscle weakness, poor nutrition, disrupted sleep, anxiety, social isolation, these older adults face the prospect of poorer health and increased frailty.
What should people do to address challenges of this kind? Several experts shared advice:
Get an evaluation from your doctor.
Many older adults have delayed medical care for fear of contracting coronavirus. Now that most seniors have been fully vaccinated, they should seriously consider getting a check-up. Health experts are encouraging seniors to schedule a visit with their primary care doctor and preventive care screenings, such as mammograms, blood work, dental cleanings, eye exams, and hearing checks.
Be aware of your limitations.
Are you having difficulty walking a quarter-mile or climbing a flight of stairs? Have you changed the way you perform ordinary tasks such as getting dressed? Be sure to take note of your physical abilities and tell your primary doctor.
Get a referral to therapy.
Those limitations don’t have to be finite. Physical therapy is great for getting back into shape at your own personalized pace. A physical therapist can work with you on strength, balance, range of motion, and stamina. An occupational therapist can help you change the way you perform various tasks, evaluate your home for safety, and identify needed improvements, such as installing a second railing on a staircase.
Note: Don’t wait for your doctor to take the initiative; too often this doesn’t happen. Be sure to speak up and ask for a physical therapy referral.
Start slow and build steadily.
Be realistic about your current abilities. “From my experience, older adults are eager to get out of the house and do what they did a year ago. And guess what. After being inactive for more than a year, they can’t,” said Dr. John Batsis, associate professor of geriatrics at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
“I’m a fan of start low, go slow,” Batsis continued. “Be honest with yourself as to what you feel capable of doing and what you are afraid of doing. Identify your limitations. It’s probably going to take some time and adjustments along the way.”
Be physically active.
Get moving! Engaging regularly in physical activity of some kind like a walk in the park, chair exercises at home, video fitness programs is the experts’ top recommendation. “Pace yourself. Listen to your body. Don’t do anything that causes discomfort or pain. Introduce yourself to new environments in a thoughtful and a measured fashion,” added Nina DePaola, vice president of post-acute services for Northwell Health.
Make sure you’re eating a well-balanced diet that includes a good amount of protein. According to a recent 2021 study, older adults were more likely to be lacking protein. during times of stress or when they’re sedentary and not getting much activity.
Get back to your routine.
It is important to maintain a routine that involves social interactions, whether virtual or in-person and various activities, including some time outside when the weather is good. Routines are especially beneficial for older adults with cognitive impairment, who tend to do best when their days have a dependable structure and they know what to expect.
Mental health has been just one of many struggles for senior adults as an effect of isolation. According to a University of Michigan poll, “An estimated one in five older adults currently experience depression, anxiety, insomnia, substance use, or another mental health disorder. These conditions are not a normal part of aging and can impair physical and social functioning. Identifying and treating them can improve quality of life and overall well-being. The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for older adults that can negatively affect mental health.”
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