The Consequences of Isolation and Loneliness

So close and yet so far!

I was speaking to a neighbor the other day about her elderly mother.  Mom, who is in her nineties, had been living with family for years.  After a cycle of hospitalizations and rehabilitations, her caregiving needs progressed to the point that the family moved into an upscale supportive personal care facility.  Shortly thereafter, when COVID-19 entered the scene, it became necessary for the facility to put visitation restrictions in place. Up until this point, Mom was cognitively intact, but due to this unforeseen development she soon went over the edge—and her cognitive abilities rapidly declined.   Unable to process or cope with what has happened, she no longer recognizes anyone but her daughter. 

On The Caring Generation July 22, 2020 radio program, “What Caregivers Can Learn from Isolated Seniors” Pamela D. Wilson discusses the topic of isolation as it relates to seniors and to caregivers.    

Caregiver Isolation and an Isolated Seniors are two distinct situations.  Although different, the caregiver can learn from the senior, and vice versa. Isolation, or being physically distanced, is called “social isolation”.  The concept of being “isolated” has been brought home to all of us by the coronavirus; it is the feeling we experience when we are unable to be together with family and friends.  Loneliness is different. Wilson illustrates the difference with a quote from a lonely senior: “Isolation is being by yourself. Loneliness is not liking it.”

Isolated, lonely seniors are certainly not a new or unusual problem.  Caregiver isolation and loneliness is common in caregiving relationships, as well. You can learn more by visiting https://pameladwilson.com/isolated-seniors-caregiver-isolation-and-loneliness-the-caring-generation-radio-program/

But Coronavirus brings on an entirely new dynamic, and this is the focus for today. 

Following are comments from a CareChat on the CareGiving.com website:  http://CareGiving.com website:

Question:
How could we improve communication with family caregivers and residents in long-term care during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond
?

  • “COVID-19 did not create the problems we’re seeing in long-term care; it simply exacerbated them and exposed them in the most public and tragic way.”— Star Editorial Team
  • The negative impacts of isolation on the health and well being of older adults is all too common—without the added complications created by the pandemic.
  • A myriad of reports and studies over the past five months have spoken about the harm caused by visitation restrictions on residents in long-term care and their families in countries across the world.
  • Nothing beats face to face and voice recognition.  Best I can do now is a Window visit where my Mom can see my face and with phone on speaker, can hear my voice.  Current indoor visit from a distance, mask, and with me shouting at her will only increase her anxiety. 
  • Family caregivers need to be recognized as something other than a visitor.  Our elders are declining because they feel that they have been abandoned by their families who used to be there to provide not only physical care, but emotional support. 
  • I hope those in the LTC sector, health care, and society at large will learn from the expertise of family caregivers, who are essential partners in care. 
  • Most importantly, “visitor” policies must differentiate between “family caregivers” and “general visitors” 
  • Mine is an umbrella “must have” that starts and ends with truly seeing the family as part of the resident.  The suffering has worsened exponentially by locking out family caregivers, who were providing essential hands-on-care.  They need to be let in ASAP!
  • Agreed, we cannot stop advocating.  This whole situation is not only heartbreaking, it is criminal.  We need a province wide mandated solution
  • Keep trying to amplify our voices until somebody listens before we see more deaths from isolation and loneliness. 

To wrap this up, here is a vision of what Life After the Pandemic might look like.  In the August 1, 2020, Kaiser Health News report Bruce Horovitz describes a post-vaccine world might look like regarding Seniors Gathering: 

  • Anytime COVID-like symptoms are exhibited, seniors will be forced to socially distance from large family gatherings and may not be welcomed under any circumstances. 
  • As older folks withdraw and isolate from family get-togethers and large gatherings, depression will increase.  A disengaged older population is a bad thing as each individual problem will grow exponentially into many. 

Not a bright outlook, from beginning to end., so ask yourself:





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