Check out Dr. Mara’s latest blog right here:
Will a Balanced Proactive Covid Policy Be Put into Place?
It’s been almost three years since we began struggling with a global pandemic. And it remains with us. But, while it was a serious crisis situation, one in which there was little knowledge about how to deal with it when the pandemic first began, one would expect, or at least hope, that, now that we have more information about this virus, there would lead to a more balanced and consistent plan to deal with it.
Such a proactive plan would balance preventing illness and death from Covid with mental health, which also profoundly affects physical health and mortality rate.
Working in nursing homes and other senior communities for the majority of my 30+ years as a clinical psychologist, I’ve seen that mental health issues were not given much thought unless and until a resident had become a “problem” for the staff. At this juncture in time, the elderly mental health crisis of isolation-induced depression, a leading cause of death in the elderly, has been exacerbated by Covid.
It’s been almost three years since we began struggling with a global pandemic. And it remains with us. But, while it was a serious crisis situation, one in which there was little knowledge about how to deal with it when the pandemic first began, one would expect, or at least hope, that, now that we have more information about this virus, there would lead to a more balanced and consistent plan to deal with it. After all, we have vaccines and treatments which have proven to save lives.
Such a proactive plan would balance preventing illness and death from Covid with mental health, which also profoundly affects physical health and mortality rate. Although this virus is still here and is not likely to go anywhere anytime soon, the responses of some nursing homes to regular spikes in the numbers are generally the same as when refrigerator trucks were lined up in their parking lots: reactive and in crisis mode.
Every time the transmission numbers hit a certain threshold, which is happening every other month and will likely continue at this rate, nursing homes in some states are putting residents in strict quarantine for ten days at a time, over and over again, even if just one resident living in the same unit tests positive. Quarantine effectively means that all of the residents in that unit are confined to their rooms and that activity workers, who might be able to provide some continued stimulation, are not allowed to enter the rooms. At the same time, nursing homes in other states are going to the opposite extreme of acting like the virus is gone.
My mother is a resident of a nursing home. She was confined to her room in October 2022 for ten days when someone in her “household” tested positive. Then, this happened again less than three months later, beginning on New Year’s Eve. The reaction of the administrative staff has been to give lip service to mental health issues. “We understand that it’s hard for them and we don’t like it,” they say.
But no actual plan has been put in place for preventing depression, which is, at this point, just as deadly as Covid is to a fully vaccinated population of senior adults. Depression actually kills, and it is also more likely to strike the same vulnerable population — those with co-morbid health issues — just as Covid does.
According to AARP, isolation and loneliness have been associated with a 50 percent increased risk of developing dementia, a 32 percent increased risk of stroke, and an almost fourfold increased risk of death among heart failure patients.
Meanwhile, care staff in even the most restrictive nursing homes are not required to be fully boostered, while the original vaccination for Covid has lost much of its potency by now, almost two years later. And, frankly, it’s most likely the case that the care staff are spreading the virus, as they often go from unit to unit, with close contact to residents.
Logically, this is not a sustainable plan. A long-term solution ought to be more balanced. We need to begin discussing better solutions, taking into account the continued danger of Covid to this vulnerable population, while at the same time taking the risks of isolation on the same population seriously.
My mother, at age 92, was among the elderly who caught Covid in a senior community in NY, when it was the epicenter, in April 2020. She was one of the lucky ones not to get very sick, while thirteen of her neighbors died. Obviously, the dangers of Covid have been real. We also know that, even with vaccinations, some have serious consequences when contracting Covid.
But, at the same time, this isn’t April 2020 anymore, thankfully, and it’s critical for the health and wellbeing of those in the care of long-term care communities that we, at least, have the conversation about the impact nursing home responses to this virus have on mental health of their residents. It’s imperative that we find a balance because it just can’t be said enough, mental health is critical to health.
This is the first in a series on this topic. Stay tuned for more blogs along my continued journey to learning more about this issue and possible solutions, which will include my conversations with Public Health experts and researchers who are studying the impact of this ongoing pandemic on the mental health of the elderly.
You can read similar blogs by Dr. Mara and listen to her internet radio show. Now also on Apple Podcasts. Check out Dr. Mara’s internationally best-selling book, The Passionate Life: Creating Vitality & Joy at Any Age, now available on Audible! And be sure to follow her on Facebook!