Previous studies have repeatedly shown the detrimental effects of social isolation on health. However, the scientific evidence about the consequences of a quarantine is limited.
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This story originally appeared on The Conversation
Confinement involves the loss of freedom and control over our lives. This causes a feeling of helplessness and uncertainty about the future that can be disturbing. Previous studies have repeatedly shown the detrimental effects of social isolation on health . However, the scientific evidence about the consequences of a quarantine is limited.
In a recent paper published in Lancet, researchers at King's College London conducted a review of the psychological effects of compulsory isolation.
The authors noted that confinement can have adverse consequences for mental health, including the appearance of anxious or depressive symptoms, post-traumatic stress, as well as feelings of anger, sadness, irritability or fear.
These effects, which can be maintained even in the long term, would be explained by various variables: frustration or uncertainty, a high sense of risk of infection, lack of supplies or inadequate information, loss of financial capacity, or a period of time. prolonged quarantine. In any case, the psychological effects of confinement will appear to a greater or lesser extent depending on our way of being and previous experiences, which will influence our coping strategies.
Quarantine in older people
According to the latest data available from the National Statistics Institute, in Spain almost 20% of the population is over 65 years old. More specifically, the proportion of octogenarians already exceeds 6% of the entire population.
In this segment of the population, an increase in one-person households is observed, which in turn increases the probability of social isolation and unwanted loneliness. Unwanted loneliness has been linked to a state of poorer physical and mental health .
In an exceptional situation such as the one we are experiencing, in which our elders are one of the groups at greatest risk, forced and prolonged confinement can cause feelings of unwanted loneliness and its effects to increase. Under these circumstances, older people may have more trouble concentrating or performing different tasks, increased anxiety, stress, agitation, difficulty maintaining restful sleep, or withdrawal .
How can we help our elders?
With reliable and limited information
Sometimes it can be difficult to control worry and intrusive thoughts about the disease. That is why it is essential that the information consulted is truthful and that we avoid unnecessary and harmful overexposure. In the case of potentially vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, it is important that they receive the information clearly and realistically, without falling into alarm.
With health care
Lack of tolerance for uncertainty makes us vulnerable to negative emotions. So it is important to pay attention to our emotions to try to identify and reflect on them. Accepting uncertainty and trusting the professionals who manage this crisis is essential to avoid panic. In this sense, numerous official organisms have elaborated recommendations for an effective coping with the emotional distress generated by Covid19.
We must convey to our elders that this situation is temporary and the importance of maintaining a positive attitude. Let us remind them that they have already experienced other adversities throughout their lives and have always overcome them successfully.
Staying busy will also help us reduce fear and anxiety. Following a routine gives meaning to our daily life and promotes our well-being. We can convey to our elders the relevance of establishing schedules, eating properly, exercising as much as possible and seeking moments of tranquility.
With physical distance, but not emotional
We have heard and read a lot in recent days about the importance of maintaining social distance to combat this health crisis.
A European study on the factors that most contribute to the subjective well-being of the elderly, our research team showed that the relationships that generate support, belonging and appreciation are the fundamental source of subjective well-being for this segment of the population. Social exchanges that mainly involve the closest family. That is why, despite the urgent need to stay in our homes to prevent the spread of the virus, the distance must be physical, but it must not and should not be emotional.
It is essential to prioritize communication and ensure that older people feel accompanied. They await our calls. They need to know that we care about their well-being, that we are by their side, we listen to them, and that we are well. For those who have access and the knowledge to connect through other remote modalities, video calls and even collaborative games can be great allies. Various institutions and non-governmental organizations work tirelessly to provide help to people in more committed situations or who have a limited support network.
People are social beings: we live in groups and we depend on each other. Strict containment measures pose a great challenge for all because they lead to the absence or decrease of our social interactions, which can have important implications for our physical and mental health. This pandemic puts the commitment to caring for others and protecting the common at the forefront.