Worried About Winter

The following column appeared in Green Bay’s local newspaper, The Press Times on Friday, November 27, 2020.  Ikor’s own column, Wise Living has  growing following.

Dear Wise Living,

I am concerned about my mom as we enter both the winter months along with the holiday season.  She is susceptible to bouts of depression and anxiety during normal times and I fear that this year’s pandemic will make matters worse.

Worried about winter

Dear Worried,

Your concerns are valid and this year has the potential to take family worries about our senior loved ones to a new level.  Sadly, 8 out of 10 Covid-19 deaths in the United States are adults 65 and older, according to the Center for Disease Control.  Therefore, creating a caring plan for your mom that maps out the next several months will be a productive way to help put your mind at ease.

First, let’s recognize that those who are prone to anxiety are more vulnerable.  Thoughts of doom can rapidly escalate during extended periods of isolation and can be exacerbated by an over-exposure to news stories about the virus.  This is especially concerning given that we are all more contained at home and for some, watching the news serves as primary activity.  “Loneliness amongst the older population will be a much more insidious cause of casualty than we previously realized,” says Matthew L Russell, MD, a geriatrician and palliative care specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital

“Some of our patients on the more anxious end of the spectrum are feeling so challenged,” adds Russell, “They are worriers and now, with lifestyles that are so much quieter, the worry has become that much louder.”

There are steps that we can take in our everyday conversations with our senior loved ones to be sure that we are unearthing what is really going on.  We all fall into routines, even in our conversations. But really listening to any nuance that is out of the ordinary will help you to be proactive along with creative.

  • Asking about their appetites and sleep patterns is a good place to start.  Listen for any red flags. 
  • Arranging for unprompted acts of kindness. For example, even if they say they have enough food, arrange for a delivery of groceries and include their favorite treats
  • Build a schedule with other family members that includes simple mood boosters.  Brainstorm things that bring your mother joy. Does she enjoy getting her hair done?  Many assisted living facilities have hair salons on site. Perhaps a new Christmas sweater would make her smile. Make a list of her favorite things and drop them off periodically throughout the holiday season.
  • Finding creative ways to connect while still being physically apart like window visits, a scheduled drive by or virtual conversation will help to stay connected.   

Local assisted living facilities are putting tremendous energy into using technology to keep their seniors connected. “COVID has us on our toes to fill in the communication gap between our seniors and every other generation in-between,” adds April Mullen, community director, Marla Vista Assisted Living and Memory Care in Green Bay.  They use Zoom meetings for residents and their families along with Google home for those residents that are more independent along with setting up FaceTime conversations. 

These are indeed challenging times.  This is where those extra measures of intentional kindness and attentiveness to our senior loved ones will outlast the winter months.

Dave Ferguson, MD., Certified Senior Advisor (CSA)® MD, NSCA-CPT is Managing Director of IKOR in the Greater Green Bay area.  He passionately provides advocacy and life care management services to seniors and individuals with disabilities.   He can be reached at david.ferguson@ikormidwest.com.  For more information about Ikor visit www.ikormidwest.com.