Expert’s advice to keep in touch

KEEPING people feeling connected through video and phone calls, Facebook and emails is vital as Australia and the world increase social distancing and isolation rules around coronavirus.

That's the advice from Professor of Psychology and Counselling at USQ Toowoomba, Dr Bob Knight, whose work focuses on older adults.

That means staying in touch with family and friends as much as possible, particularly other seniors who may not have access to, or be confident with, internet use.

"Generally, seniors have great coping resources from their decades of experiences," Dr Knight said.

Some may still remember the days of the Great Depression and World War II, to which the current crisis is being likened.

But for those of us in the Baby Boomer and later generations, the professor said, this was truly the toughest time most of us would have encountered.

"It's important to stay involved with everything that has given you pleasure in the past as much as you can and however you can within the restrictions," Dr Knight said.

"Think actively about what you can still do that you enjoy and how you can do it in a more solitary environment."

That includes, for instance, if you do have internet nous, playing interactive games like Words with Friends - a popular Scrabble-type online word game you can play with up to 30 friends from around the world.

Card and board games, brain-training games, crosswords, word and number puzzles such as Sudoku, and jigsaws are other ways to keep your mind active.

Drag out those old stamp books or photo albums to sort through, start knitting, crocheting, doing art or other craftwork again, or for the first time, write your life story or teach yourself a new language.

With the media filled with negative stories at the moment, Dr Knight said we also needed to balance staying informed with becoming overwhelmed.

"As part of active morale management, you need to be aware of what makes you feel better and what makes you feel worse and think about how much news you watch as opposed to involving yourself in things that you find fun or mentally stimulating," he said.

He advised all ages, but particularly seniors, to ensure they keep moving and find ways to exercise, keeping your muscles active and the oxygen flowing to give you mentally as well as physically better health.

"It's a challenge to reorganise our lives, and requires real rethinking and a problem-solving approach," he said.

However, he emphasised the importance of checking on how others are doing, and staying as socially connected as possible.

According to American research by the National Institute on Ageing, working together to keep communications open and find purpose to what we do can stop physical isolation becoming loneliness, which has been shown to increase physical and mental health problems.

That includes everything from high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and a weakened immune system to anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer's disease and even death.

People who engage in meaningful, productive activities, on the other hand, tend to live longer, boost their mood, and maintain their wellbeing and cognitive function.

If you do need mental health help, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300224 636.


Dr Knight's top tips for contented isolation

• Stay connected - Use video, phone, email, Facebook to reach out to family and friends.

• Keep your brain active - challenge yourself with things such as crosswords, Sudoku, card and board games, jigsaws, and interactive online games.

• Rediscover old hobbies or learn something new.

• Keep active. Try to do some exercise to keep you physically and mentally fit.

• Think about what you enjoy and how you can still do it in a more isolated way.

• Check on family, friends and neighbours.

• Stay informed but don't become overwhelmed by too much bad news.

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