When COVID-19 hit, it was made clear by many sources early on that people over the age of 60 were especially susceptible to catching it, would be hit harder, and would have a great risk of death from the virus. The CDC has said that “8 out of 10 COVID-19 deaths reported in the U.S. have been in adults 65 years old and older” (2020).
Because of this increased risk, retirement communities, assisted living facilities, and other medical facilities that house elderly patients have adopted other pandemic protocols beyond wearing masks, sanitizing surfaces, and social distancing. Many have eliminated interaction between residents, having them stay in their apartments/rooms, including for meals, and eliminating visits from family members. Thus adding almost complete isolation to the list of ways COVID-19 can negatively affect the elderly.
“Social isolation and loneliness are well-known risk factors for increased mortality in patients with advanced disease and advanced age” (Presley & Frist, 2020). There are many stories out there of otherwise healthy seniors experiencing a trauma, such as a broken hip, during this pandemic and never recovering as depression became a factor during their healing process. Or, Alzheimer patients experiencing an extreme decline in their prognosis, forcing an increase in medication, and with facility workers struggling to keep up, a lack of oversight ends up resulting in the death of the patient.
Sadly, these are the examples of people who are in a facility with regular care. There are even more seniors who were not in need of regular care, who are still living in their own homes, but are now experiencing depression due to isolation from loved ones and are now not able to get the care they need.
In this scenario, it is hard to weight the risks of exposure to the risks of isolation, but ultimately seniors have been experiencing an even great risk of death due to COVID-19 because they can die of it, or die because of it.
If you have an elderly family member, do whatever you can to visit safely, while social distancing, wearing masks, and making sure everything has been sanitized. Even a brief visit, safely distanced, through an open window can brighten the week of an elderly person who has been in isolation for months. Also, the use of technology allows for visits via Zoom or Skype or a similar service.
For those with elderly patients, they would be excellent candidates for telehealth services! A little interaction on a regular basis can have a great affect on their well-being.
CDC. (2020). Older Adults. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/older-adults.html
Presley, M. & Frist, B. (2020). Seniors are becoming COVID-19 collateral damage. They’re dying because of it, not of it. Retrieved from: https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2020/06/15/coronavirus-dangerous-for-uninfected-elderly-column/5322589002/