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COVID-19: Mitigating Loneliness, Anxiety in Seniors

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Ipsit Vahia, MD, medical director of geriatric psychiatry outpatient programs and medical director at the Institute for Technology and Psychiatry at McLean Hospital, agrees and said the accelerated shift to telemedicine because of COVID-19 will have a lasting legacy.

"After this crisis passes, I predict that we'll see a permanent shift in care models that incorporate telemedicine to a greater extent," he told Medscape Medical News.

In addition to setting up online connections to their healthcare providers, there are other strategies to help older patients maintain social contact. These include greater use of computers or tablets to stay connected to family, loved ones, and friends through video chats and playing online games.

"Seeing each other's faces, hearing their voices, and sharing the experience that we're going through can be therapeutic for everybody," Forester said.

For seniors who may not have the technology or know-how to use these devices, getting tech-savvy, healthy young family members to come by and help seniors get online "would be a really good thing," he added.

Forester noted that mindfulness-based interventions and relaxation techniques could also be helpful.

"There are many computer-based applications for these mindfulness exercises that folks can try out. This is an area of extraordinarily high interest in psychiatry overall, but particularly in older adults," he said.

Vahia also recommended picking up the phone, whether it's to use smartphone apps or just "old school" talking with others.

AAGP past-president Iqbal "Ike" Ahmed, MD, clinical professor of psychiatry at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences and of psychiatry and geriatric medicine at the University of Hawaii, Honolulu, said it is important to stay in touch with older people now more than ever.

"Even older people who are cognitively healthy are at risk, because cognitive reserves are down. Tele–hook-ups are important for contact and to make sure [the elderly] are doing well," Ahmed told Medscape Medical News.

A Silver Lining?

Both Ahmed and Forester recommend that all clinicians, including those on the front lines of the pandemic, screen patients for loneliness, depression, and cognitive impairment.

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