By Claire Miller
Based on what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) know about the new coronavirus, older adults may be at higher risk for more severe complications from COVID-19.
Assistant Professor Laura Shannonhouse – whose research focuses on crisis intervention and disaster response, older adults and strategies to equip faith-based communities to help – has worked with students and colleagues to draft a tip sheet on caring for older adults during COVID-19 that can give caregivers, volunteers and individuals simple guidelines for supporting the older adult populations in their areas.
Scheduling regular check-ins by phone or working with care providers to set up video calls can help combat loneliness and isolation, which homebound older adults are even more susceptible to in an era of social distancing, she said.
Shannonhouse has also drafted tips for providing spiritual first aid, a spiritual and emotional care intervention that takes into consideration how people turn to their faith to make sense of major crises.
“The heart of spiritual first aid is to respond to the person’s needs – stepping out of our own experiences and being there for someone else in the way they need us, not the way we would want them to respond to us,” Shannonhouse said. “For older adults, the main need is connection and belonging. They need to feel that they matter and their life counts.”
She’s collecting data that will offer new insight into how COVID-19 affects homebound older adults. Her recent grant work, funded by the Administration for Community Living, trains nutrition services volunteers to engage with more than 700 older adults in Georgia when delivering meals to these individuals. These volunteers are often the main source of connection for those who are homebound, and are uniquely positioned to offer life-assisting interventions when necessary.
Individuals and families who are caring for older adults or volunteering to deliver meals may feel overwhelmed by following CDC guidelines for keeping this population safe and healthy. When that happens, Shannonhouse recommends taking time to address your own needs – getting enough sleep, eating well, reaching out to friends and loved ones for help, and finding ways to show gratitude to the people around you.
“For those caregiving and being put upon so much by this pandemic, I would encourage them to be grateful,” she said. “Expressing gratitude, especially to others, is one of the simplest ways to feel better. There have been research studies showing that those who are able to express gratitude directly to another person have better mental health outcomes.”
- Visit https://eldercare.acl.gov/Public/Index.aspx to find local Area Agencies on Aging and/or county senior services offices who can provide information on volunteer opportunities with homebound members of the community.
- Visit https://www.aarp.org/caregiving to find resources for family caregivers working to keep the older adults in their families safe and healthy.
- Shannonhouse and her students wrote a two-part series for Psychology Today highlighting how a lack of connection impacts older adults and how people can foster more social connection with older people while still social distancing.
Department of Counseling and Psychological Services
(Laura Shannonhouse is a National Certified Counselor, Licensed Professional Counselor, an Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Trainer and a Suicide to Hope Facilitator. Her clinical experiences have included working with disaster-impacted populations domestically and internationally, and her research interests focus on crisis intervention and disaster response. She also conducts research on suicide prevention, older adults and the equipping of faith-based communities to help.