Evaluate the effects of social isolation on assisted living patients
Research shows that older populations are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19, but unfortunately safety measures and precautions have led to some cases of isolation and social disconnection. Due to her work visiting patients in assisted living facilities, we asked Denise Nofziger, APRN, NP-C, PPG – Ohio, Family Medicine, to share her observations on the impact of the pandemic on residents and strategies that help combat loneliness.
The impact of the pandemic
The pandemic has taken a toll on everyone, especially people living in long-term care facilities and assisted living facilities. COVID created many barriers for residents, hampering their ability to adhere to the regular routines they had grown accustomed to, including socializing.
At the start of the virus, nasal swabs were taken weekly and, if a patient tested positive, they were subject to room changes, which moved them from their normal accommodation. And due to the contagious nature of COVID-19, all non-essential visits had to wait. Recreational activities like bingo, board games and chatting with other residents were suspended and, for everyone’s safety, patients were asked to stay in their rooms. Visits with family and loved ones were limited to conversations through a closed window.
As vaccines became available and healthcare professionals learned more about COVID-19, restrictions were slowly lifted, allowing more visitors and healthcare personnel, including dieticians, cleaning staff, helpers and nurses. Although family members were allowed to visit, they were required to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gowns, masks and face shields. Despite these successful returns to regularity, residents felt, and in some cases still feel, the overwhelming pressure of isolation and depression imposed by the pandemic. Many miss the fundamental elements of human contact, contact and interaction.
I remember the first time families were able to come back into buildings or take their loved ones out, Christmas 2021. The mood in many facilities had improved and was so much brighter. The nurses were delighted to see the residents happier and their loved ones finally had the opportunity to visit them. Families were grateful and new grandchildren got to see their grandmother or grandfather for the first time. It may sound simple, but the tours made all the difference, whether in person or virtual. They have helped diminish overwhelming feelings of loneliness and isolation while giving residents a sense of control during a time of uncertainty.
Telemedicine is another positive outcome of the pandemic that appears to be helping residents. For example, I remember a resident who was disoriented and unable to walk. They needed a follow-up with their specialist, whose office was 45 minutes away, but their family could not get them there. Luckily, they could have a virtual visit with their family present as a facility nurse assisted with vital signs and assessments while avoiding costly transportation costs that could have put a financial burden on the family. In this scenario, virtual care and telehealth services were a huge benefit for everyone.
Who to turn to for help
If you or a senior are struggling with mental health issues and isolation, don’t suffer in silence. Individuals can always seek help from trusted family members and friends, but beyond that there are mental health resources such as the Parkview Behavioral Health Helpline, which is available 24 hours a day. 24/7 at 260-373-7500. The Parkview LifeBridge day program is also available for seniors who could benefit from support and group activities several times a week.