Risks of Isolation

Angie SzumlinskiStudies

There has been a lot of discussion on the risks of social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have experienced many changes in 2020 that we have no control over. These changes have had even more impact on our residents and families. We are no longer able to celebrate special events, dine in our dining rooms, hug our family members, or even have a conversation without a window separating us. A recent study was conducted by Altarum and the findings will leave you thinking! Here are a few things to ponder on:

Of the residents in the survey:

  • 76% felt lonelier (were they lonely before the pandemic?)
  • 64% did not leave their rooms to socialize (did they leave their rooms prior to the pandemic?)
  • 54% of residents reported that they do not participate in organized activities in-house compared to 14% before the pandemic (activities are on hold)
  • 13% of residents are eating in the dining rooms compared to 69% before the pandemic (communal dining is on hold)

Failure to Thrive

Failure to thrive is a concept first used for children experiencing weight loss, poor nutrition, and inactivity due to a variety of psycho-social, emotional, or other hard to identify underlying causes.  The term has more recently been applied to older adults who experience a generalized decline and have unexplained weight loss, poor appetite, and inactivity.  Several residents wrote about this type of decline in their comments, including weight loss, feelings of hopelessness, and feelings of sadness or depression.  These residents are concerned their isolation and inactivity is bringing on physical decline. Residents also clearly expressed their feelings of deep sadness and loneliness, and a persistent loneliness impacting them daily. Here are a few of the comments:

  • “I feel worthless and most days I feel like giving up….”
  • “I have become more anxious and depressed due to the separation from my loved ones…”
  • “I have increased confusion and weight loss”
  • “I do get lonely at times and I sometimes cry”
  • “I miss hugs and touch….”
  • “COVID-19 has limited my visits with my son, there is no hope”
  • “I feel like I am in prison….”
  • “My husband passed away due to COVID-19, we did not have the burial, I cannot get out long enough to get that done, I need to have closure”
  • “If the virus doesn’t kill me, the loneliness will”

Residents wrote about being restricted in their basic freedom of movement.  They expressed their desire to go outdoors and felt nursing homes should do more to enable them to socialize. Some attributed the lack of outdoor access as an important change impacting their quality of life.

  • I am not able to get around in the center, no group activities or able to socialize with friends. I miss visitors and volunteers that came very often and music groups.
  • I have been restricted to my room so long my life has gotten worse. No visitors, no going out, no nothing.
  • I have no cognitive impairments. However [there is] the isolation, loneliness, not seeing my spouse for over 100 days. My spouse was usually here two times a day

Prior to COVID-19, 56% of residents reported having outside visitors three or more times a week compared to 79% of residents reporting having no visitors after mid-March

Social outings have taken a hit as well; prior to the pandemic, 58% of residents responded that they left the facility to go out to eat, visit with friends and family, go to church, shopping etc. compared to 6% during the pandemic.

Outdoors and fresh air! 83% of residents reported going outside for fresh air at least once per week prior to the pandemic and now that number is 28%.

Residents are adjusting; approximately 58% of residents report communicating with loved ones three or more times a week on the telephone or video chat however, only 40% of residents reported having their own technology that allows them to keep in touch with their loved ones independently.

How safe do our residents feel?

These findings are definitely important, maybe the most important; if our residents don’t feel safe we haven’t done our job!

  • 77% of residents reported staff wearing their PPE at all times during care.
  • 52% of residents reported observing staff washing their hands before and after providing care.
  • 20% of residents reported that they are concerned about contracting the virus.
  • Approximately 50% of residents report there being less staff available to them during the pandemic.

Remember, safety is of utmost importance to residents and their families. If a resident doesn’t feel safe in their “home” they may experience overall decline, anxiety, depression, etc. Please take the time to review the study at the link below. There is valuable information that you can take to your “home” to assist in your pandemic journey. Remember, sometimes a verbal hug is better than no hug at all!

Stay safe, stay well and stay tuned!