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COVID-19 vaccine could help improve mental health for seniors

With seniors around the country isolated from many friends and family visits, the vaccine could be an opportunity to socialize more.

AUSTIN, Texas — With the COVID-19 vaccine already rolling out in the United Kingdom, the medication to fight the virus could lead to improved mental health for seniors.

In July, almost half of seniors reported the stress and worry over the coronavirus pandemic negatively impacted their mental health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a survey found about 20% of people 60 years old and older had gotten therapy or taken medication because of their mental health as a result of the pandemic.

People living at The Continental Retirement Community will be some of the first Texans to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, once given the nod from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

"Bring it on," Carol Smith said. "We want this thing to go away."

"We want to be first in line," Joe Smith said.

Carol and Joe Smith have been married 66 years. Many seniors are forced to deal with loneliness during the pandemic because of less frequent visits from friends and family and the Smiths feel lucky to have each other.

"The saddest part is that there are a lot of folks here that are by themselves, and we're fortunate," Joe Smith said. 

Many visits have had to happen over the phone. The Continental has a policy in place now that residents can only have one to two visitors in their room at a time. Any additional visitors need to be met outside the building.

"I usually go out to a restaurant or over to their house with my son and his family," said Betty Bright, another resident at The Continental. "We haven't done that since March."

"We'll visit, mostly over the telephone," said Clara Hiller, another Continental resident. "That's my way of keeping in touch, because the friends that I had ... I still keep in touch with those people. We used to go out to lunch, but of course, there's no such thing as that – not now for me anyway."

Hiller emphasized one of her priorities is keeping physically healthy. To keep her mental health strong, she leans on her life as an only child and keeping up with multiple projects. 

"I'm handling it and it's like, what else can you do?" Bright said. "You weigh the options. You don't, you don't follow the protocols and you can have too many problems, so you follow the protocols."

RELATED: Texas nursing home residents can leave for the holidays, which has some people worried

To keep their residents engaged, the staff at The Continental have games and puzzles they bring around for seniors to take advantage of.

"What we've done to kind of mitigate the isolation, the effects of isolation, is just turn up our activities program and make sure everyone has plenty to do," said Everret Williams, the executive director at The Continental. "We'll set up Skype visits, FaceTime, things of that nature so that they can at least see their loved ones."

Williams sees the vaccine as a way for his seniors to break the routine they've gotten used to since March.

"It will give them another layer of protection with everything going on and give them the confidence to step out a little bit more, within reason," Williams said.

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