In the long and winding timeline of medical history, only recently has the importance of mental health been fully acknowledged. Possessing strong mental health is more than just doing what makes a person feel good. Mental health is achieved through a system of regular maintenance allowing individuals to meet their emotional needs while respecting their individual emotional patterns. Older adults navigating memory loss are uniquely struggling right now, as environmental changes and the “new normal” may take more time and effort to understand. Their mental health may require some special considerations at this time.
Mental Health and COVID-19
Many seniors’ mental and physical health has been negatively impacted in the time of COVID-19. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) states, “Social distancing can create further isolation, and the current crisis is affecting almost everyone’s routines, mass transportation, and some “non-essential” social services. This means that the usual social support and contacts older adults have with others may be diminished.”
There is still much to discover about the virus, but experts agree that seniors are more susceptible to COVID than other segments of the population. This means that older adults may be experiencing more stressors as a vulnerable population. The positive news is that coping techniques and support systems are available. Creative solutions for safe interactions have begun to arise to meet quickly evolving needs.
Digital Support Systems
Seniors looking for support in coping with memory loss who live in remote areas or seniors trying to isolate during COVID-19 may have a more difficult time connecting to a social group for the time being. One potential solution would be pursuing an online Alzheimer’s support group. EdenHill Communities offers an online support group run by Dr. Mark Burns, a geriatric and general psychiatrist with his practice based in New Braunfels, each third Wednesday at noon. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to request an invitation and link to the online event.
Online therapy can also be a valuable resource for people of all ages. Therapy once held a stigma that it was only needed for people in extreme mental health distress. Thankfully, in recent years, the truth has been acknowledged: therapy can be an invaluable tool for mental health maintenance in anyone’s life. It can encourage healthier relationships, increase self-knowledge, and promote a stronger general sense of peace.
There are increasing options for online therapy. Psychology Today’s website has a “Find a Therapist” feature that allows individuals to filter therapists through their geographical area, learn the insurance the therapist accepts, and even what specialties the therapist offers. Some therapy practices also accept sliding-scale pricing for patients who are uninsured or underinsured.
Hearing stories similar to their own can also be invaluable for those experiencing memory loss in themselves or a loved one. In recent years, there has been a rise in the creation of podcasts that highlight personal stories about living with memory loss. Notable titles include The Forgetting (produced by NPR), Dementia Matters, Caregiver Storyteller, The Alzheimer’s Podcast, and Fading Memories. Films, documentaries, and shows concerning Alzheimer’s may also provide helpful knowledge or encouragement. Notable titles include The Alzheimer’s Project (presented by HBO), I Remember Better When I Paint, The Genius of Marian, Still Alice, and Alive Inside.
The Alzheimer’s Association San Antonio and South Texas Chapter also provides a weekly Facebook Live video event called Pause and Ponder: Love, Faith & Healing. This series, which provides engaging conversations with community and spiritual leaders, is intended to uplift anyone impacted by Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s Association also offers free virtual programming geared toward spreading knowledge and building a supportive community through their outreach.
“Dementia is scary, exhausting, and incredibly isolating for both the person who suffers from the disease and for their life partner and loved ones,” says Meredith Patterson, RN, author of Pillars of Brain Fitness. “It’s a marathon experience—daunting, but eased by the support of others.”
Alzheimer’s support and education resources are available in South Central Texas. Speaking with an expert can make a diagnosis and care more manageable. As a leading memory care expert in the region, EdenHill Communities is hosting a free Alzheimer’s Symposium on October 22 for seniors experiencing Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia and their caregivers. Dr. Mark Burns and Meredith Patterson (quoted above), are both speaking at the Symposium and will be available to answer questions.
With the option to attend the event virtually or in-person (with social distancing measures in place), RSVPs are required. To learn more or to register, visit www.edenhill.org/symposium or call 830-625-1324.