Florida is home to more than 5.5 million residents age 60 and older and as the number of cases of COVID-19 increases in Florida, so does the associated risk for increased behavioral health issues such as anxiety and depression, especially as many of Florida’s older residents choose to remain safer at home and live with the effects of social isolation.
That is why the Area Agency on Aging for North Florida, Inc. (AAA) and Elder Care Services, Inc.(ECS) along with the Florida Department of Elder Affairs (DOEA) are working collaboratively to make sure they are doing everything they can to address the mental health effects COVID-19 has on seniors because they are as essential to address as physical health effects.
“The past few months have created numerous challenges for older adults, and we know how difficult it has been for seniors who are experiencing symptoms of social isolation. Which is why we want our most vulnerable residents to know they are not alone. And that it is okay for them to reach out for help if they are feeling anxious or depressed,” said Secretary Richard Prudom, DOEA. “That is why we are pleased to be teaming up with providers who are helping us distribute an important ‘Talk it Out’ flyer which provides older adults with tips and credible resources should they need help.”
The ‘Talk it Out’ flyer is being distributed to a multitude of organizations across the state, and mental health professionals are available to help our seniors through these unprecedented times.
“Depression is not a normal part of growing older, and we want our seniors to know that help is a phone call away,” added Sec. Prudom.
And to help ease the isolation for homebound seniors, AAA and ECS recently launched a goody bag drive. With the help and generosity from the community they have been able to fill more than 500 goody bags which will be delivered to homebound seniors in the region. The bags, which will start being delivered today, contain senior-friendly crossword and word search books, coloring books and crayons, sketch books and color pencils, decks of playing cards, and jigsaw puzzles.
“Travel restrictions caused by COVID-19 have left many in our senior population homebound, making them feel especially isolated and alone which is why we had to find a way to provide them with some form of engagement,” said Lisa Bretz, Executive Director of the Area Agency on Aging for North Florida, Inc. “We are so grateful for all the generous donations from our colleagues, and community that are helping us keep our seniors active and entertained during these difficult times.”
In addition to focusing on the mental health of Florida’s seniors, advocates are also ensuring that our most vulnerable continue to receive nutritional meals and reassurance calls.
COVID-19 may have limited the ability for seniors to get in-person visits from AAA and ECS staff and volunteers, but it has not stopped tireless advocates from checking on Florida seniors through thousands of reassurance calls. In fact, since March 14 ECS has made more than 5600 calls to some 900 seniors in the region.
In addition to the reassurance calls, ECS has served more than 54,451 meals since mid-March, an increase of 12,527 meals compared to the same time last year.
“Experts say that taking care of your emotional health will help you think clearly and react to the urgent needs to protect yourself and others. We want to also make sure our seniors stay in good physical health by eating nutritional meals,” said Jocelyne Fliger, CEO of Elder Care Services. “The frontline heroes during these challenging times have been our staff and volunteers who have been so committed to helping our elderly — they have our deepest gratitude.”
Seniors who need assistance with their meals, or just need to ‘Talk it Out’ are encouraged to call the Elder Helpline at 1-800-963-5337.
Seniors who are feeling anxious, depressed, and alone can also receive services by doing the following:
- Call your healthcare provider if stress gets in the way of your daily activities for several days in a row.
- Text HOME to 741741 to connect with a Crisis Counselor.
- Call 1-800-662-4357 to talk to a trained mental health professional.
- Call the Senior Friendship Line at 1-800-971-0016.