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Loneliness: COVID-19’s Hidden Health Risk

News
23 August 2020
Studies have found that social isolation, especially among the elderly, can lead to a decline in overall cognitive functioning. Depression and anxiety also set in as the isolation persists.
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On Monday 23 March this year, a national lockdown was announced. By Friday 27 March, the country went silent as citizens were confined to their homes to help curb the spread of COVID-19, while also allowing the healthcare system to prepare. But the lockdown also brought with it several difficulties, one of them being the devastating effect of isolation from loved ones.

With friends and relatives prevented from visiting the elderly for almost 5 months, the psychological effects on both the aged and their relatives have been undeniable. And despite level 2 lockdown restrictions now in effect, many retirement homes are still erring on the side of caution and preventing outside visits.

DEALING WITH ISOLATION

Studies have found that social isolation, especially among the elderly, can lead to a decline in overall cognitive functioning. Depression and anxiety also set in as the isolation persists. It’s unclear when old age homes will open their doors fully, but for now there are a few things everyone, especially the elderly, can do to better handle the loneliness.

Plan Your Day

Having set tasks and a routine makes it easier to get through the day. Whether it’s simple acts such as getting out of bed or making a cup of coffee or tea at a certain time, finishing a book, completing a crossword or puzzle or caring for your indoor plants – having a list of things to do each day keeps your mind busy and motivates you to tackle each day.

Stay Physically and Mentally Active

It doesn’t have to be intense. A simple stretching routine in the morning and/or evening is great for getting blood circulation going and keeps your muscles and joints healthy. If you’re able to, go for a walk around the building – the fresh air will do wonders. It’s also vital to keep mentally active either through reading, completing puzzles, watching television, arts and crafts or writing.

Reach Out

If you struggle to cope with isolation, try and find ways to keep in contact with loved ones. Whether it’s phoning them regularly or chatting over video call, it’s important to still stay in touch. It might not be the same as face-to-face interaction, but simply hearing your loved one’s voice has a massively positive effect on your mental state. If you’re unsure how to make use of the tech resources such as Skype, Zoom or WhatsApp, ask someone to help you.

Seek Help

There are several free resources available to help you better manage the negative effects of long-term social isolation. Simply give any of the organisations below a call and a trained counsellor will assist.

SA Depressions and Anxiety Group (SADAG)

 

Suicide Crisis Lines

  • Adcock Ingram Depression and Anxiety Helpline: 0800 70 80 90
  • Akeso Psychiatric Response Unit: 0861 435 787
  • Dr Reddy’s Helpline: 0800 21 22 23
  • Lifeline South Africa: 0861 322 322
  • SA Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0800 12 13 14

Sources: SADAG | Trends in Cognitive Science | American Psychological Association