COVID and Social Isolation: The importance of staying connected, inspired, and safe

In February, a month before Utah’s “Stay Safe, Stay Home” order went into effect, I took my 89-year-old mother to her annual Medicare wellness visit. She aced the usual battery of tests—blood pressure, oxygen levels, reflexes, strength, balance, BMI—but her cognitive functioning had slipped considerably since the previous year. And that was before the pandemic put a stop to her coffee dates with neighbors, swim classes, trips to the store, and visits with her two out-of-state daughters.

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The toll of social isolation

There’s plenty of evidence to show that pandemic-associated social isolation is taking a heavy toll on the cognitive and emotional health of seniors. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) predicts that COVID-19 will have a significant and lasting effect on the wellbeing of older adults. “Older adults are being told to self-quarantine and shut themselves off from other people who might risk infecting them. In long-term care facilities, one common practice is to ban visits from family members and friends to these facilities in order to minimize the risk of spreading the virus. While these restrictions are legitimate under this time of crisis, they could have a significant negative impact on older adults’ mental health status, such as experiencing social isolation and loneliness.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), social isolation is associated with a 50% increased risk of dementia, but the problem extends beyond cognitive health with a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke. Loneliness is associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide. It makes sense, given that we humans are inherently social beings whose survival on the planet has depended on cooperation, collaboration, and community.

Balancing work and hands-on caregiving

Early in the pandemic, when senior living facilities became hot spots for COVID-19, many families in the Salt Lake City area began moving their aging parents out of assisted living, skilled nursing, and memory care facilities to care for them at home, said Jennifer Beck-Schmidt, RN, DC, Homespire’s Director of Nursing and General Manager. “But the reality of working from home while trying to help their children adjust to remote learning didn’t leave much time or energy for hands-on caregiving,” she said. These families knew they needed additional support.

“One of the things we tell families is, ‘We want you to be the daughter or the son, not the caregiver.’ We give them permission to take some time for themselves or to go out together,” said Jen.  As for keeping clients engaged and inspired, Homespire’s caregivers have definitely been thinking and acting outside the box—and the house.

“When the weather was warmer, we arranged for church groups to come over and hold outdoor church services,” said Homespire Life Care Manager, Lori Maddox, RN. “They’d set up their picnic blankets on the front lawn, and we’d set up a chair for our client on the front stoop—and it was lovely!” Lori has also taken clients for scenic drives up the canyon, to drive-throughs for a cookie and a drink, and on picnics in the park. “People simply need face-to-face human interactions,” she said.

Distant but still connected

If your loved one is in a senior living community that is currently restricting or limiting visits, daily phone calls from family members can help ease the loneliness. It might take some coordination, but between the adults and the grandchildren, your loved one can stay connected to the outside world. Another way to help bridge the gap is to send homemade or store-bought greeting cards full of newsy updates.

Thriving in challenging times

At Homespire, we put everything we have—our expertise, our people, and our passion—into inspiring the lives of those we serve. To learn how Homespire can support you and your loved during the pandemic and beyond, schedule a free consultation – we’re here to help people stay healthier and independent longer.

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