How older adults can cope with COVID-19

We are certainly in unsettling times. Often, it is difficult to find reliable information. This is a quick informational blog about how to keep yourself safe and how to reach out for assistance. The Senior Reach program continues to operate, accept new referrals, and continues to work with older adults in our community. We are currently utilizing a Telehealth model to continue our work.

Older adults, 65 years and older, are at higher risk for severe illness. COVID-19 is a new disease, and we are learning more about it every day.

What you can do

If you have a serious underlying medical condition:

  • Stay home if possible.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Avoid close contact (6 feet, which is about two arm lengths) with people who are sick.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.
  • Avoid all cruise travel and non-essential air travel.
  • Call your healthcare professional if you have concerns about COVID-19 and your underlying condition or if you are sick.
  • For more information on steps you can take to protect yourself, see CDC’s How to Protect Yourself

Stress and coping

Older people are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 which may result in increased stress during a crisis.

Fear and anxiety about the COVID-19 pandemic can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions.

Things you can do to support yourself:

  • Go outside for a little while: Enjoy the health benefits of sunlight, especially morning sun, look around and stretch a little. Stay home but get a little sun.
  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories and social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting. Instead play different games on the cell phone or table.
  • Enjoy your kitchen: See what you have in your pantry, make a recipe with whatever you find. Discard items that have expired. Research cooking ideas on Pinterest.
  • Body basics: Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs.
  • Make time to unwind. Try to make a point to do activities you enjoy.
  • Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
  • Find a project: Make your own hand sanitizer or make protective masks as a sewing project or make a project with other items around the house. Find something that works within the scope of your home.
  • Call your healthcare provider if stress gets in the way of your daily activities for several days in a row.
  • If you, or someone you care about, are feeling overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, depression, or anxiety, or feel like you want to harm yourself or others, then please call right away.

Here for you

This column was contributed by Wellness and Care Coordinator Nicole Hartog and Program Manager James Kuemmerle with the Senior Reach program at Community Reach Center. It is important for people experiencing mental health conditions and their loved ones to know that mental illness is treatable, and there is no shame in seeking assistance. If you have any questions about where to turn for help for older adults, please reach out to the Senior Reach team at Community Reach Center at 303-853-3657. We provide treatment for depression and trauma, as well as many other mental disorders. Community Reach Center provides comprehensive behavioral health services for all ages at locations in Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City, Brighton and Broomfield.

Reduce procrastination to improve wellness

Enjoyable activities can be the spice of life, but what must be done when they become excessive and interfere with our productivity? We’ll have to look in the mirror and take the initiative to reduce behaviors leading to procrastination.

Procrastination is often regarded as a time management problem. However, psychologists like Tim Pychyl at Carleton University attest that procrastination has more to do with emotional regulation than time management. This stance conflicts with popular understandings of procrastination, leading us to re-evaluate our perspective on this behavior.

Why do we procrastinate?

Procrastination is often caused by emotional dissatisfaction associated with working on productive tasks, such as school assignments or work-related tasks.

Emotional dissatisfaction associated with productivity often leads to engaging in distractive activities like watching TV, playing video games, or surfing the internet and social media.

Procrastinating by engaging in distractive activities provides short-term mental satisfaction but can be detrimental to long-term wellness.

Impacts on wellness

Procrastination has been found to contribute to the following mental health problems:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

As time is spent procrastinating, stress and anxiety levels increase due to worrying about completing a task at hand, especially as deadlines approach.

Procrastination may also lead to depression because stress and anxiety are known to exacerbate symptoms of depression.

The following physical health problems have been associated with chronic procrastination:

  • Hypertension
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Chronic illness

Physical health consequences attributed with chronic procrastination are largely due to the physical impacts of anxiety. For instance, anxiety hinders functioning of the cardiovascular system, immune system and central nervous system, leading to physical health consequences.

Poor health habits are also common in people who experience immense stress and anxiety, therefore contributing to physical health consequences.

Reducing procrastination

While there are no cheat codes to conquer procrastination indefinitely. However, some useful tips can be used to significantly reduce this behavior.

A notable tip for reducing procrastination is to ask yourself the following questions:

  • “What tasks need to be completed to promote my wellness?”
  • “What actions will benefit my future wellness and success?”
  • “How will I feel if I do not complete a task on time?”

Such questions provide insight on what needs to be prioritized, as well as taking wellness into consideration.

Another useful tip to reduce procrastination is by giving yourself incentive to complete a task through rewarding yourself with an enjoyable activity after you’ve completed it. You can tell yourself, when I finish my assignment, I will watch that awesome new movie everyone’s been raving about or beat the next level in my favorite video game. Whatever the reward is, ensure it will give you strong incentive to complete your task.

Also, no exceptions. Enjoyable activities make it harder to be productive because transitioning from a pleasurable activity to a productive task is difficult.

Taking breaks

If you feel overwhelmed while completing a task, take a break. Do something that is not distractive, time consuming or mentally taxing, such as:

  • Take a short walk
  • Eat a healthy snack
  • Engage in mindfulness meditation

Such activities will promote mental clarity and enhance productivity when returning to your task.

Final thoughts

Procrastination is a prevalent behavior in society. Statistics estimate around 80 to 95 percent of college students procrastinate academic work. Further, about 20 percent of adults in the U.S. are chronic procrastinators. However, through knowing the impacts of procrastination on wellness and tips to reduce this behavior, you can save yourself the unnecessary stress by completing your tasks ahead of time. What are you waiting for? Now is the time to tackle those productive tasks and overcome procrastination.   

Establishing good habits as well as finding ways to cope with mental health issues can be challenging. If you or a loved one has a mental health concern, we are happy to consult with you at Community Reach Center. To get more information about our metro Denver mental health centers visit communityreachcenter.org or call 303-853-3500. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City, Broomfield and Brighton.

This blog was contributed by Brice Pernicka, a Westgate Community School student who is also an intern at Community Reach Center. The Grants, Public Relations and Marketing team extends a big thank you and high praise to Brice who exceeded expectations in writing exceptional blogs and handling at wide variety of tasks during his internship. We enjoyed the past six months he has worked with our team and predict great success in his future. 

The importance of sleep for mental and physical health

What if I told I you there was a ground-breaking evidence-based treatment available to everyone that helps you manage anxiety, depression, PTSD, reduces risk of heart attacks, decreases your chances of diabetes, protects you against cancer, lowers food cravings, reduces risk of dementia, increases your life span and makes you more attractive?

It’s called sleep!

March is Sleep Awareness Month, and I thought I’d help increase your awareness of how sleep affects you. My favorite book for 2019 was “Why we sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams,” authored by Matthew Walker, doctorate professor of neuroscience and psychology (and director of the Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory) at the University of California, Berkeley.

What happens when we sleep?

In the book, Walker writes about how research has demonstrated that sleep is not just a passive state. Instead it’s a highly active time, a period during which the brain and some physiological processes may be hard at work.

The two main types of sleep are rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep and non-rapid-eye-movement (NREM) sleep.

  • REM is responsible for forming new neural connections, problem-solving, dreaming, blunting emotional responses to painful memories, reading other people’s facial emotions and neonatal synaptogenesis.
  • NREM is responsible for pruning memories, transferring short-term memory to long-term memory, gaining muscle memory, growth hormone secretion and parasympathetic nervous system activation.

What happens when we don’t get enough sleep?

Sleep and anxiety neuroscientists have found that sleep deprivation fires up areas of the brain associated with emotional processing. The resulting pattern mimics the abnormal neural activity seen in anxiety disorders. Researchers also believe that chronic worriers – those who are naturally more anxious and therefore more likely to develop a full-blown anxiety disorder – are acutely vulnerable to the impact of insufficient sleep.

Lack of sleep directly affects the part of the brain that’s used for managing emotions. Emotion regulation is controlled by the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. When we’re not getting enough sleep, we can get angry, frustrated or upset more easily. We can feel less control over our reactions to things and people. With poor sleep we’re more vulnerable to low moods, such as feeling sad and lacking enthusiasm.

We might find ourselves crankier and more irritable. 

Good ideas

Here are some tips for getting the healthy eight hours recommended.

  • Get your room dark and cold. Why dark? When your brain detects light from a blue light spectrum (electronics) it suppresses the release of melatonin. Its melatonin that initiates the first sleep cycle. Why cold? Our body needs to drop two to three degrees to enter deep sleep.
  • Sticking to a sleep schedule can help your body fall asleep more easily. A relaxing activity, such as reading or listening to music, should be part of your bedtime ritual. Exercise is great, but not too late in the day.
  • Try to exercise at least 30 minutes on most days but no later than two to three hours before your bedtime. Avoid caffeine nicotine and alcohol. Having the right sunlight exposure is key to regulating daily sleep patterns.
  • Try to get outside in natural sunlight for at least 30 minutes each day. If possible, wake up with the sun or use very bright lights in the morning.

Liz Austin, BA, is a PSR (Psychosocial Rehabilitation) specialist at Community Reach Center and has been with this program for almost four years now. Prior to joining the PSR team Liz was part of the Mesa House team for five years. Liz has recently gotten into rock climbing and enjoys the family bonding time spent belaying each other on challenging climbs.   

It is vitally important for people experiencing mental health conditions and their loved ones to know mental illness is treatable. Please don’t hesitate to seek assistance. Remember the Behavioral Health Urgent Care (BHUC) center, 2551 W. 84th Ave., in Westminster is open 24 hours. And to learn more about Community Reach Center, a nonprofit mental health center with numerous outpatient offices in north metro Denver, visit www.communityreachcenter.org or call 303-853-3500. If you have any questions about where to turn for help for older adults, please call the Senior Reach team at Community Reach Center at 303-853-3657. Community Reach Center provides comprehensive behavioral health services for all ages at locations in Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City, Brighton and Broomfield. As always, we are here to enhance the health of our community. Mental wellness for everyone is our goal.

Depression is not a normal part of growing older

(Way Stations: Staying on Track in Older Adulthood series columnists are Jim Kuemmerle and Nicole Hartog, shown above.)

Depression is a diagnosable and treatable medical condition, not a normal part of aging. However older adults are at an increased risk for experiencing depression. Depression is not just having “the blues” or the emotions we feel when grieving the loss of a loved one. It is a treatable medical condition, like diabetes or hypertension.

How is depression different for older adults?

Older adults are at increased risk. We know that about 80 percent of older adults have at least one chronic health condition, and 50 percent have two or more. Depression is more common in people who also have other illnesses (such as heart disease or cancer) or whose functioning becomes limited.

Older adults are often misdiagnosed and undertreated. Healthcare providers may mistake an older adults’ symptoms of depression as just a natural reaction to illness or the life changes that may occur as we age, and therefore not see the depression as something to be treated. Older adults themselves often share this belief and do not seek help because they don’t understand that they could feel better with appropriate treatment.

Special concerns for older adults

Of course, some older adults do develop clinical depression. According to the National Institute for Mental Health, the following characteristics or conditions may put older adults at a higher risk for depression:

  • Being female
  • Having a chronic illness
  • Having a disability
  • Sleeping poorly
  • Feeling lonely or socially isolated
  • Having a personal or family history of depression
  • Using certain medications
  • Having a brain disease

A number of medical and neurological conditions have high rates of depression associated with them, including stroke, cancer, diabetes, Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

Missed diagnosis

Depression in older adults is often not diagnosed. That's because of stereotypical beliefs among family members, caregivers and even healthcare providers that older adults are depressed in general. Older adults may hide their depression by complaining about a physical problem. This makes it harder to diagnose.

Common signs of depression include:

  • Sleep problems, including too little or too much sleep, or getting up earlier than desired
  • Less pleasure and interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Less energy or focus
  • Increase or decrease in appetite
  • Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Self-destructive and suicidal behavior

Statistics

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the highest suicide rate (20.2) was among adults between 45 and 54 years of age. The second highest rate (20.1) occurred in those 85 years or older. . Of every 100,000 people age 75 and older, 16.3 died by suicide. This figure is higher than the national average of 11.3 suicides per 100,000 people. Non-Hispanic white men older than 85 have the highest suicide rates, 55 per 100,000 people. Many of these men visited their healthcare provider in the last month

If you see signs of depression in yourself, a friend, or a family member, don't wait until it becomes severe. Please reach out for assistance. Remember the Behavioral Health Urgent Care (BHUC) center, 2551 W. 84th Ave., in Westminster is open 24 hours. And to learn more about Community Reach Center, a nonprofit mental health center with numerous outpatient offices in north metro Denver, visit www.communityreachcenter.org or call 303-853-3500. Also visit the website for information about Mental Health First Aid courses for adults.

 

We would like to thank Wellness and Care Coordinator Nicole Hartog and Program Manager James Kuemmerle with the Senior Reach program at Community Reach Center for their insights. It is important for people experiencing mental health conditions and their loved ones to know that mental illness is treatable, and there is no shame in seeking assistance. If you have any questions about where to turn for help for older adults, please reach out to the Senior Reach team at Community Reach Center at 303-853-3657. We provide treatment for depression and trauma, as well as many other mental disorders. Community Reach Center provides comprehensive behavioral health services for all ages at locations in Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City, Brighton and Broomfield.