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Self-quarantine doesn’t have to be house arrest

self quarantine 2By now, you’ve probably heard or read all you need to know about self-quarantining and social distancing – and then some. But one thing you haven’t heard is that precautionary measures like these can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, self-isolation can help protect the age group most susceptible to COVID-19 – people age 70 and older – from infection. But on the other hand, it can be bad for your emotional, cognitive, and even physical health.

There’s a vicious cycle at work: Sitting home virtually alone can generate stress, depression and anxiety, especially in a time of officially declared pandemic. Those feelings increase activity in the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that focuses on repetitive negative thoughts. “When people are depressed or under high levels of stress, this part of the brain malfunctions, and people experience a continuous loop of negative thoughts,” says Dr. Jason Strauss, director of geriatric psychiatry at Cambridge Health Alliance. And that produces more stress.

But breaking this cycle can be as easy as a walk in the park. Literally.

These self-quarantine tips could help prevent more than coronavirus

self quarantineYou’ve probably heard or read in the news that adults over 65 are the age group most susceptible to Coronavirus infection, and should self-quarantine to protect themselves.

But long before the Coronavirus outbreak, thousands of people over 65 have been quarantining themselves – not from pandemic disease, but from human contact and mental stimulation. And, as I’ve written before, that kind of isolation can have equally real effects on physical health, not the least of which are higher risks of cardiovascular problems, some cancers, hypertension, depression, anxiety, loss of cognitive function, and even osteoporosis.

Thanks to today’s technology, there are plenty of ways to enjoy social and personal contact without physical contact.

Why it pays to see the doctor when you’re not sick

march 2020 optIn short, because it could keep you from getting sick in the future – with screenings and tests that can help keep you healthier and more independent.

According to the Center for Disease Control, “Fewer than half of adults 65 or older are up-to-date with core preventive services despite regular checkups.” These services “include immunizations, screening tests and counseling to prevent the onset of disease and disability.”

More than 100 different medical organizations each have their own different lists of preventive care recommendations, while the US Preventive Services Task Force [USPSTF] has focused on these essentials:

running optAccording to a 2002 National Institutes of Health study, false negative perceptions of aging can take an average of 7½ years off a person’s life. They can also cost elders and their families large expenditures for senior care that’s not needed. And according to writer and activist Ashton Applewhite, too many people have been “brainwashed by negative myths and stereotypes.” In her new book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, she marshals statistics from the NIH study to debunk them.

Myth #1: Most seniors end up in nursing homes.

Fact: only 2½ percent of Americans over 65 – and 9 percent of those 85 and older – are in nursing homes. Low as they are, those percentages are dropping.

rob loweIn the decade before winning his first Screen Actors Guild Award, actor Rob Lowe was cast in a different role. “When I was in my thirties,” he wrote in USA Today, “my brothers and I cared for our mother throughout her stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis. It’s not a role I was expecting to land, it didn’t come with much preparation, but it turned out to be one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done – and, undeniably, one of the most difficult."

“Often,” he adds, “that means you’ll skip your social obligations, wreck your diet, suffer sleep deprivation, and even risk your career, all to help a loved one through the most difficult time of their life.”

According to National Alliance for Caregiving estimates, 43.5 million Americans selflessly serve as unpaid family caregivers for loved ones. Of those, 85% are caring for a relative, 60% are women. On the average, their caregiving occupies 24.4 hours a week of their time as they do “everything from housework to advocating with health care professionals to complex medical/nursing tasks.”

No wonder 70% of US caregivers feel tired most of the time, 57% suffer from sleep trouble, 49% from feelings of depression and 46% from weight fluctuation – to say nothing of the financial stress resulting from sacrificing an aggregate of nearly $3 trillion in lost wages, pension and Social Security benefits and averaging $7000 a year in out-of-pocket caregiving expenses.

Take care of yourselves.