Blog: Mindfulness for older people during the lockdown

Published: 20 May 2020

Blog: Mindfulness for older people during the lockdown

For Mental Health Awareness Week mindfulness instructor Lynette Robinson (CF 2010) describes how she is supporting socially isolated older people with mindfulness sessions over Zoom.

"Instead of being a protective factor, social isolation becomes a risk factor." – Lynette Robinson, Fellow

In one way or another, the majority of us are feeling the impact of lockdown restrictions and its effects on our mental wellbeing. Perhaps the worst affected group are those whose physical health we are trying to protect the most - our over 70s.

In fact, there is considerable research to show that social isolation increases risk for a range of mental and physical conditions - such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s, anxiety, cognitive decline, depression, and even death (Singer 2018, Journal of Aging). Instead of being a protective factor, social isolation becomes a risk factor.

As a Churchill Fellow and teacher of mindfulness, I began exploring the following questions within my own breadth of creativity and contribution:

  • How can we minimise this impact on mental health during an indefinite lockdown period for our elders?
  • What can I offer that will support their journeys through this time of vulnerability and increase their resilience levels?

My response to how we support elders to feel connected rather than isolated, and empowered rather than helpless, during a frustrating time of isolation, acknowledges that the mind, body and spirit continuum of needs is interlinked and not separate. It draws on USA-based research around teaching mindfulness to groups of elders, with mindfulness as an effective intervention for many (Geiger, P. et al, 2017).

Over a year ago, I began piloting a weekly group, called Living Well, Aging Mindfully, at a local residential complex for elders in Totnes, South Devon. It was a free offering and most had no idea what mindfulness was. But as attendance slowly grew, participants began to report and display many benefits.

Since Covid-19 locked down the members in their apartments, with an indefinite date for release, the group has made its epic conversion into the virtual world. With some IT support, I arranged for the group to continue to meet over Zoom.

Each Monday morning at 10.50 am, members of the group start coming on online. They greet each other with a joyful wave and a smile as they arrive and connect. The eldest group member is 90: he had never used Zoom before.

At 11 am we start with every member making a self check-in on ‘how am I doing?’ within their virtual community of care. I teach basic neuroscience, to understand how the mind works when feeling stressed and frightened. I guide a meditation each week and teach a simple mindfulness skill. Between sessions, elders try out the techniques for self-care and self-soothing and report back to the group next time.

Building a ‘tool kit’ to care for their own mental wellbeing is empowering, at a time when many elders report feeling frustrated and powerless. Other reported benefits include improved sleep, feeling calmer and less anxious, letting go of fear-based thinking patterns and, importantly, feeling less disconnected. As self-awareness increases, so too does their ‘choice’ on thoughts and behaviours during the day-to-day stresses of lockdown life.

Anyone can practice mindfulness. To close this article, I offer four mindful living tips for these challenging times, that you may want to try out yourself.

  1. Take time during the day to notice your thoughts. Are they based on facts or mental events, assumptions and predictions?
  2. Remember that ‘thoughts are not necessarily facts.’
  3. Stop. Take a pause. Inhale three long breaths, in and out. Become aware of your body and invite it to release any tension on the out breaths.
  4. Start and end each day with practicing gratitude. Recall 5 things, people or events you are grateful for.

Find out more about Lynette and her work here.

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