Dr. El
Dr. El

COVID-19 has affected millions of people across the country and around the world. It has vastly changed our lives, with no immediate end in sight. As we face the gloomy prospect of a pandemic winter, I consulted some experts for suggestions on how to handle difficult periods in life — nursing home residents. 

In many ways, the pandemic experience echoes that of what new residents go through.

Prior to admission, a life-changing event occurs. In the immediate aftermath, they grapple with vast changes and yearn for a return to how things were. Fairly soon, most realize that rehab isn’t a sprint back to prior lifestyles, but a marathon with the strong possibility that their previous lives are no longer possible. With time — and sometimes psychotherapy — the majority of residents focus on trying to make the most of their current circumstances.

With this process in mind, I asked those with at least seven or eight decades of experience if they had any advice for younger people on how to get through hard times. 

Many had ready answers to my question. Others asked me to come back after they’d thought about it for a while. All seemed pleased about being solicited for their thoughts and happy to be able to help younger folks. 

Here is what they said:

  • You have to have faith. Without that, you’re sunk.
  • You have no choice — you have to get through it.
  • C’est la vie. (“Such is life.”)
  • Stand up for what’s right and the truth will take care of itself. The passing turmoil will seem insignificant.
  • Only with God. If it wasn’t for him, I’d be dead already. 
  • Pay attention to the pandemic; don’t risk your health.
  • You have to keep hope that life will get better.
  • God is my source on the path of life.
  • Be patient and look for ways to solve problems.
  • Keep a sense of humor and have a laugh.
  • Try to find a way to be happy in the moment. 

I appreciate the wisdom of these older adults and I’m reminded of a septuagenarian resident who was referred to me decades ago. He’d been confined to his room for years because of advanced multiple sclerosis and the team was worried that he might be feeling depressed.

Instead, I found that he had created a busy life for himself in his bed. He had favorite television shows, relatives he spoke to on the phone, and crafts in which he engaged. His room was filled with photographs. Crayon drawings by his young grandchildren were tacked onto his bulletin board. He listened to music regularly and, despite the limitations of his life, he didn’t appear depressed at all.

I’ll keep him and these other elders in mind this winter, as I endeavor to adjust my expectations of life and find enjoyment in steady routines, small pleasures and hope for the future.

Eleanor Feldman Barbera, Ph.D., author of The Savvy Resident’s Guide, is an Award of Excellence winner in the Blog Content category of the APEX Awards for Publication Excellence program. She also is a Bronze Medalist for Best Blog in the American Society of Business Publication Editors national competition andGold Medalist in the Blog-How To/Tips/Service category in their Midwest Regional competition. To contact her for speaking engagements and/or content writing, visit her at EleanorFeldmanBarbera.com.