The pandemic has turned life upside down for many older Canadians.

Besides facing the highest risk of COVID-19 hospitalization and mortality, seniors are experiencing tremendous changes in their lives due to the pandemic. According to a survey of Canadians aged 55+ conducted in autumn 2020:

  • 90% said the pandemic caused changes in their daily routine (e.g., work, education, social life, hobbies or activities)
  • 79% reported changes and delays in accessing healthcare, including medical appointments and prescriptions
  • 83% said their access to family and social supports has been affected

Coping with all of this change can be tough, especially due to physical distancing measures necessary to keep seniors safe from the virus.

As difficult as the pandemic has been, however, it’s an opportunity for seniors to learn about strategies and resources that can help them cope with change at any time.

Tap into past transitions

Surprisingly, life satisfaction usually increases with age. Why do seniors report higher rates of happiness than younger people?

According to researcher Mark Brennan-Ing, it’s essentially a case of “been there, done that.” Older people are good at adapting to change, he says, because they’ve already gone through so much of it. 

“There’s crisis competence,” Brennan-Ing explained to The New York Times. “As we get older, we get the sense that we’re going to be able to handle it, because we’ve been able to handle challenges in the past.”

Life changes experienced by many seniors include challenges from divorce or bereavement to chronic health conditions or facing the physical and mental effects of aging. Loved ones can help seniors cope with life-altering situations like the pandemic by pointing out how successfully they’ve weathered other momentous shifts in their lifetime.

The University of Cincinnati’s Center for Aging With Dignity suggests that you,  

“remind them of the challenges they have overcome throughout their lives. Doing so may boost their confidence, help them accept change and adjust accordingly.”

The resilience factor

Drawing strength from these past transitional periods helps older adults build a critical coping skill called resilience.

The University of Arizona Center on Aging defines resilience as “successful adaptation to adversity. It is revealed by an individual’s ability to cope and recover from crises, sustain a sense of purpose and vitality, and emerge stronger from stressful experiences.”

How can seniors develop this sort of resilience, both during the pandemic and beyond it?

Tips for coping

Key things that can help seniors build resilience in challenging times include: 

  • A sense of purpose: Involvement with activities, volunteer work, religious faith or relationships that give life meaning (Check COVID-19 public health guidelines for any in-person activities.)
  • Personal connections: Engaging in fulfilling interaction with family, friends and community
  • Optimistic outlook: Seeking silver linings in tough situations, learning from setbacks, and finding gratitude for what you already have
  • Physical activity and nutritious food: These help keep the body and mind healthy during stressful periods

Specific activities recommended to help seniors cope during COVID-19 include: 

  • mindfulness practices like meditation 
  • maintaining a regular schedule
  • creative outlets like writing, singing, painting or drawing
  • reading, listening to music or writing in a journal
  • getting outside once a day
  • staying in touch with family and friends
  • getting adequate sleep
  • limiting news intake to reliable sources for short periods at a time
  • focusing on things within your control 
  • learning a new skill or language

Change can be difficult. But it’s an opportunity for seniors to attain greater self-awareness and build inner resilience. Doctors, counsellors and faith leaders have experience helping people cope with change. Across Canada, information on various government and community services is available 24/7 by phone at 211 and online at 211.ca. 

If you’re interested in fostering new interests and building your support community, The Bright Spot might be the kind of change you’re looking for. Visit our activities page to get started today.