COVID-19 Lockdown in Nepal: Help Your Adults to Overcome Health Risks
As coronavirus cases keep on rising, it can be hard for older adults to see the need for lockdown and the loneliness that can come with it as there is no chance of social gatherings.
For months now, they have been following advice from health professionals to reduce their risk of exposure by staying home, knowing an infection can have life-threatening complications, especially at this age. But sheltering at home has also meant to stay distant from family, friends and places like parks, cafeterias which kept them active and engaged.
Unknowingly, the COVID-19 safety guidelines which are widely practiced to self-isolate have created new health risks by leaving many older adults even more socially isolated and inactive than before. I believe family members and health professionals need to look closely at this potential risk in this older generation’s behavior during this self-isolation period and identify strategies to minimize the unintended consequences.
Even before the pandemic, it was seen that older people in Nepal mostly those who living retired life were socially isolated and experienced loneliness. The reason behind this was that the friends of their age group either have shifted to different places along with their children or have died. This results into having few social connections and feeling isolated or lonely.
These issues can be associated with numerous health-related conditions, including chronic diseases and psychiatric disorders. It may be possible that in some time if this deadly virus is not stopped and to prevent it, if social isolation (lockdown) is continued, then this can have a similar risk factor for premature death to that of cigarette smoking, physical inactivity, or obesity.
Especially, older generations in countries like Nepal (South-Asia) enjoy welcoming guests to their houses, but then COVID happened, and it restricted these activities. However, social distancing during the pandemic was never meant to spoil social connections, but many family members, friends and neighbors of older adults are staying away to avoid exposing their loved ones to the virus.
This practice may protect older adults from some health risks relatable to virus but the limited physical interactions reduce feelings of connectedness with others and they start to feel lonely and as a result it can also aggravate other health risks.
Without frequent and meaningful social interactions and simulation, older adults can decline cognitive functioning. As the days of social isolation passes by, the older adults may be vulnerable to unconditional depression and anxiety, and even have potential thoughts of suicide.
Being at home due to lockdown is also making it harder to engage in healthy lifestyles, including physical activity and eating well.
Without exercise, muscles of older people can weaken, leaving them more prone to fall while walking, trouble getting up and many more. This inactiveness can also lead to unexpected weight gain and other health problems which includes declination of heart and lung capacity. Access to healthy food is also necessary for staying healthy and for preventing and managing chronic medical conditions.
Not every older adults will see the same impacts, those most likely to be affected are who already have experience of living alone or have limited financial resources, as well as those with multiple illness, mental health issues and memory problems (Alzheimer’s, Dementia, etc). In order to manage, family members should encourage older adults to take steps on their own to stay active and engaged. Here are some suggestions;
- Planning your day– Days may seem to be an endless blur but keep up with daily routines like getting out of bed, getting dressed and being engaged with small regular activities. Planning time for calls with friends and family, reading, puzzles, cooking, gardening can give meaning to the days.
- Staying physically active– Find exercises that can be done at home or in the immediate empty space in your neighborhood, like walking. Thanks to digital world now many virtual and online physical activity and Yoga programs are available, which can remotely foster engagement and connection to others.
- Accept help from others. Remain open to accepting the kindness and support from family members, friends, health care providers and social service agencies. Besides family and friends there are many individuals and organizations (governmental or private) are working hard to feed, provide shelter to people in need.
- Spiritual activities- In countries like Nepal people are more involved in spiritual activities. So providing spiritual support for older people (if they seem interested) living in long social isolation like in Nepal is vital to their well-being. It is especially important when they face the challenges of being isolated from friends and family. Living in digitalized world now there are many guided apps and websites (online portals) regarding that.
Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the need for social distancing, there are ways to help older adults remain connected. Phone calls and online platforms offer older adults ways to safely connect with peers and professionals, as well as friends and family. Nepal should provide online learning specially designed for older adults, which will help provide interaction and intellectual stimulation for them.
For older adults, staying healthy and safe means also staying socially connected while following recommendations from health professionals. The nation’s efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 should also take into account the importance of social connectivity for maintaining older adult’s physical and mental health. Family interactions are also must needed element in older adult’s mental and physical healthiness.
Stay Safe, Stay Healthy, Stay Home
Ayush Chandra, MBBS
Tianjin Medical University, China
Founder Member, Multiple Sclerosis Society Nepal