Listen: Tamar Krebs chats to Laura Bennett about caring for seniors
The older members of our community are in a pretty difficult position right now.
Those over 70 have been all but ordered to stay home to protect themselves from COVID-19, and with all social activities cancelled, the elderly are forced into even greater isolation.
While these social-distancing measures are designed to preserve our wellbeing, they can also erode the mental health of the older population.
To look after the elderly well in this time, we need to capitalise on other methods of connection, says Tamar Krebs, founder of Group Homes Australia.
“The thing to keep in mind is, we’re talking about ‘social-distancing’ not ‘social isolation’,” said Tamar. “For someone living in an aged care facility or their own home, it’s really important for them to be connecting with family members or with other people in different ways.
“If once upon a time we would [give them] a hug, we’re going to still stay connected – but talking on the phone is really important, and even more so with face-to-face video.”
Tamar also suggests we look after our own health for the benefit of those around us, and help our older relatives stay active.
“You want to make sure you’re being responsible for your own movements,” said Tamar, “and that you are practising social-distancing… because you may not get sick because you’re a younger person, but you can be a carrier, and you can definitely infect someone older.
“You also want to make sure the persons getting out and about in terms of going for a walks and exercising; we’re not in lock-down yet as a country, and so long as we can get outdoors and breathe fresh air in non-public areas it’s really important to do so.”
Isolation Can Cause Depression
We know isolation can have detrimental effects on people of any age, but for a section of the population who can already feel displaced, it’s important we know what signs to look for that they may not be doing well.
“[Long-term isolation] is going to affect their mood, it’s going to affect their appetite,” Tamar said, “and with older people it can affect their orientation to time and date, because one day sort of rolls into the next day.
There’s also just that flat mood of feeling irrelevant, and not feeling purposeful; so it’s really important to combat that and to address that in this time.”
Get Out the Photo Albums, Go Down Memory Lane
Like all aged-care facilities across the country, Group Homes Australia are currently in lockdown for visitors, limiting residents’ interactions with the outside world.
In order to counteract the negative emotions that can generate, Tamar says one tactic her teams have been using, is taking residents on a trip down memory lane.
“Bring in old photo albums… Take out that shoebox of old Christmas cards and letters… Read them to one another… It gives them a sense of connection.”
“We’ve asked family to bring in old photo albums… and just reminisce about the travels, and the family Christmases together, and [those] special times,” said Tamar, “so there’s actually positive experiences and positive memories that give them a sense of validation.
“The other thing is, we all have that shoebox of old Christmas cards and letters that we’ve written to another that we’ve never thrown out – take them out. It’s a great time to read them to one another… It gives [residents] a sense of connection without breaking the social-distancing rules.”
Positive Moments make a Difference – Even With Dementia
The elderly with dementia also need some extra care though this pandemic.
“95% of our residents have dementia, and they time travel,” Tamar said. “So a family member may have visited and they won’t remember they’ve visited. So we create opportunities that we call ‘cherish moments’ in the moment. [For instance] if we have a good FaceTime where the [resident] can see their loved ones on a screen and the can interact, it’s going to increase their positive feelings.
“If our residents are watching the news constantly and they’re getting anxious by the news, they may not remember why they’re anxious, but they’ll remember the feeling. So trying to create as many positive ‘cherish moments’ throughout the day can generate a [reserve of] positive feelings they can call on [when they’re feeling low].”