There is a good possibility that Australia could experience a second wave of coronavirus once people start to interact more, similar to countries overseas that eased their restrictions too quickly.
Nationals Seniors recently wanted to remind all Australians to stay vigilant and that social distancing and self-isolation is still important in protecting yourself and others from spreading coronavirus.
Self-isolation is the best way to reduce the risk of being exposed to coronavirus, however, it does increase the likelihood of health and wellbeing issues in older Australians who may be experiencing loneliness or 'cabin fever' like symptoms.
Cabin fever symptoms can include lethargy, depression, trouble concentrating, lack of patience, food cravings, decreased motivation, difficulty waking, frequent napping and hopelessness.
Since self-isolation and social distancing will still be recommended for another few months, older Australians may need to prepare themselves mentally and physically for the long haul and make sure their surrounding environment is safe.
Martin Warner, Founder of Home Instead Senior Care Australia, says, "In addition to the widely reported mental health implications of isolation, we are starting to come across other impacts on seniors such as safety, a lack of physical exercise, as well as a sense of normality.”
Mr Warner has five tips for older Australians to make sure they are safe living at home during these uncertain times.
Secure your home environment
An accidental fall is always a massive problem for older people who live at home. Taking a fall can cause an elderly person to end up in hospital or in aged care, or may even result in serious injury or death.
It's always important to have your home environment secure and safe, but even more so during a period where visits from family and friends may not be as frequent.
Take stock of your home and whether there are any areas of the house that need to be adjusted or fixed.
Mr Warner says, "Many seniors will wait until a family member drops by for help with tasks like getting a heavy item off a high shelf, to reduce the risk of injury.
"But with visits limited, we’ve been hearing from both seniors and their families that they’re worried about accidents happening.
"So to ensure you or a senior you know can go about their day safely in the home, do a safety audit to check for things such as loose railings, unsteady furniture, trip hazards like rugs and grab rails in the bathroom."
Keep a routine
For working adults, experts have encouraged employees to continue their usual morning routine so they can be motivated for working at home. The same can be said for older Australians staying at home because of the coronavirus.
If you get out of a normal routine, your mental health can start to be impacted which in turn also affects your motivation to do things.
"Mental health experts recommend routines to give each day a sense of purpose. While your routine will be different during self-isolation, try to think of ways you can add structure to your day," suggests Mr Warner.
"Your routine can include simple things like getting dressed every morning and doing your hair, as well as checking in with family at a certain time, chores around the home, reading, working on a hobby project and daily exercise."
Keeping a routine also gives you the opportunity to get on top of any housework or other chores that you have been putting off for a rainy day.
Exercise is a critical part of keeping healthy physically and mentally, and many older Australians have been worried about leaving their house in the last few months due to the coronavirus threat.
However, the Government recommended that older Australians should still go outside for essential services and activities, like exercise, if they are self-isolating to protect themselves.
If you still don't feel comfortable going out into public to exercise, you should try to undertake exercise in your own home.
This could include making yourself a little space to do yoga or pilates workouts, follow tv exercise tutorials, or if you have low mobility, undertaking low impact movements like chair exercises.
“Being in self-isolation means you may not be able to do your regular fitness activities, such as going out for walks, playing lawn bowls or attending a group exercise class," says Mr Warner.
"But staying strong is important for overall wellbeing, brain health and living independently. So keep fit by trying home-based physical activities, such as gardening and indoor exercise.”
Exercise your brain too!
Boredom is going to be a big part of keeping your feeling mentally strong while being at home for long periods of time.
Similar to older people with dementia, if you don't keep your mind stimulated and engaged, it can have negative effects on your cognitive abilities.
Additionally, Mr Warren suggests reducing your news watching time, since lots of negative news can result in anxiety and feels of being overwhelmed.
He believes limiting your access to news to once or twice a day can keep you informed in what is happening around you, without causing unnecessary stress,
"By having activities to do, you’ll be less tempted to switch on the TV, which could result in you watching more news than necessary," adds Mr Warren.
"Activities you could try include organising your photos, writing a memoir or some fiction, trying a new hobby such as painting, dancing or learning a language.
"You could also start writing to a pen pal, do a daily puzzle like a crossword or Sudoku, make a picture book for your grandkids, sew a face mask for yourself or to donate to the community."
Prioritise your mental health
Mental health problems and isolation go hand in hand for older people that don't have as much social interaction or who don't leave their house often. This issue has been compounded further because of COVID-19.
Luckily, many families, friends and neighbours have been going above and beyond to make sure they have strong connections with their older loved ones.
Even home care services and the Government are putting in the effort to protect older Australians who are self-isolating at home.
Mr Warren adds that the above tips combined will also get older people into the right mental state to combat negative emotions or mental health issues.
“Routine, exercise, limited news intake and activities are all positive things you can do for your mental health during COVID-19," says Mr Warren.
"But there may be times when you experience feelings of loneliness or overwhelm. While this is a normal reaction to the situation, there are ways you can cope with these feelings and help them to pass.
"These include keeping in touch with loved ones via phone calls or email, remembering that you are resilient and have dealt with difficult situations before, and reminding yourself that self-isolation won’t be forever.”
For more information about the coronavirus, visit the Aged Care Guide COVID-19 update page.
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