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Older Adults’ Mental Health Is Suffering During COVID-19

TAYLORSVILLE, Utah – The pandemic has struck our senior citizens hard. As it stretches on with no end in sight, older adults’ mental health is suffering.

That’s why it’s so important to be proactive, experts say, because being a grandfather in 2020 takes ingenuity.

Luckily, Mike Packham is used to getting creative. He talks to his grandson, Oliver, regularly on Skype. As a musician, he’s played the French horn since sixth grade and played it professionally with the Orchestra at Temple Square.

He’s also being inventive with the company he keeps.

His dog, Sam, a rescue, lives with him at Summit Vista, a senior living community in Taylorsville.

“(She’s) part Border Collie and part Husky,” said Packham, who is single and 73 years old. “I was feeling really lonely. We can’t hug and shake hands with people, but I can pet Sam, and we can snuggle up watching TV.”

Staying connected is vital to mental health. One in four people 65 and older is experiencing anxiety or depression during COVID-19, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“Some older adults are declining very rapidly because they are not socially engaged,” said Anne Asman, director of Development and Outreach at University of Utah Department of Psychiatry.

Lack of appetite, trouble sleeping, and disengaging with family and friends are signs of depression, Asman said.

“It’s very dangerous,” she said. “Really.”

Experts at the University of Utah Geriatric Psychiatry Clinic recommend seniors learn technology to stay engaged.

“Some don’t even have internet access. Some are terrified of computers,” Asman said.

As recipients of a $25,000 AARP grant, they hope to help older Utahns become tech-savvy.

At Summit Vista, they’ve found ways to socialize, with precautions.

“This lobby turns into a little city park tai chi where we have tai chi going, socially distanced and spread out,” said Raquel Braithwaite, director of community life at Summit Vista. “In our restaurants, we have spaced our tables more than six feet apart, but we’ve created the spacing in a way that people can still have conversations.”

Upstairs in his apartment, Mike stays busy creating artwork. And with Sam by his side, He keeps the COVID blues at bay.

“I can’t sleep in,” he said. “She’s licking my face at 7:30 in the morning.”

There are many resources online to help seniors stay connected safely. One company, Candoo, walks people through how to Zoom over the phone.

The following is a list of online activities and resources to help older adults stay active and connected during COVID.

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