Addressing residents’ coronavirus fears

As the number of coronavirus cases increases around the world, providers may be worried about the emotional impact of the outbreak on residents and how to handle it. One would expect residents to be concerned, given that they’re at higher risk due to their ages, underlying health problems and residence in a communal setting.

Rather than mass panic, my experience and an informal query of my psychologist colleagues suggests that they may not be as worried as you’d think. As of last week, remarkably few of them have raised the issue in psychotherapy sessions (where uneasiness of every kind is discussed).

My colleagues and I speculate that the majority of residents are not unduly alarmed about the situation due to a combination of factors: more pressing problems, successful passage through many prior hardships, fatalism (i.e., “At this age, something’s going to get me”), denial (“it’s happening far away”), and trust that the facility will keep them safe.

Nevertheless, despite their general calm and resilience, it’s perfectly reasonable for residents to have questions and concerns. There will be some who are deeply unsettled by the prospect of the virus, particularly those with anxiety disorders and people struggling with depression. There may also be individuals who have had past traumatic experiences with hospital-acquired infections, isolation precautions, or communicable illnesses such as polio.

Facilities are no doubt reviewing infection control procedures and holding staff education sessions for their employees. To address the emotional needs of residents, add a brief segment to staff training that includes the following suggestions:

  • Limit the amount of time residents spend watching the news. There’s no need for them to be exposed to hours of alarming reports on the day room television.

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