On Your Radar podcast: Older adults coping with loss and loneliness from the pandemic

Older adults are our most experienced and resilient group of people, but sometimes our most marginalized. Many have multiple chronic medical conditions, rely on medications, and live with the isolation of retirement and a reduced connection with family and friends.

And this may surprise you, but even before the pandemic, older adults were just as susceptible to substance use disorders as younger adults, with nearly 17% experiencing issues.

The last two years only exacerbated these issues, by adding the fear of contracting COVID-19 and forcing even more loss and loneliness on older adults, which in turn can accelerate the process of mental and physical decline. Some symptoms of substance use or mental health disorders may even overlap with medical disorders (slurring words, gait issues), so an expert may be needed for proper diagnosis.

But how can we all help? First, connection. Checking in on a schedule that works for them, even if that means helping with newer technology like Facetime or Zoom so you can see each other’s faces.

Something else that goes a long way is to always preserve dignity. The experts at Rosecrance recommend giving choices, talking facts, and showing empathy and compassion without pity. If you do have concerns about substances, relating the topic to other issues may help—is it affecting their medical conditions or their relationships with their grandchildren, for example.

It’s not always a comfortable conversation, but even 5-10 minutes can make a world of difference. We’ve all had to adapt so much the last two years, and with a little support, our most resilient population can do the same.

If an older adult you know is experiencing any mental health or substance use issues as a result of the pandemic, check out series 5, episode 3 of the Rosecrance podcast “On Your Radar,” which covers older adults coping with loss and loneliness.

Download “Older Adults: Coping with Loss and Loneliness from the Pandemic,” series 5, episode 3, HERE.