To shield residents from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), nursing homes have been forced to change course from encouraging social interaction to preventing it, including bans on social events and visitation. Limiting social contact certainly makes sense in response to a deadly and easily transferred virus, but the loneliness of isolation comes with health risks of its own. At Brown & Barron, we have compiled a list of ways to improve social interaction in a safe way during the pandemic.
To combat the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), health agencies and governments are encouraging citizens to engage in social distancing to stem the spread of the virus. This involves avoiding crowds and nonessential travel and essentially staying at home as much as possible. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) warns that these self-isolating measures are even more vital to the elderly, who are at a greater risk of COVID-19-related fatalities. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and CDCP are recommending banning visitors, except in end-of-life exceptions, and some state and local governments, including Maryland, are mandating these restrictions.
The unintended consequence of COVID-19 quarantines is increased loneliness for a population that already struggles with unhealthy feelings of isolation and detachment. Loneliness is more than an unpleasant feeling; it is a contributing factor to serious health problems. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences conducted a study of 6,500 men and women over the age of 52 and found that isolation and loneliness were heavily associated with higher rates of mortality even when accounting for health conditions.
It's more important than ever to reach out to the elderly and disabled with a sense of human connection, so here are some ideas for social interaction with social distancing for your loved ones in nursing homes.
Video conferencing technology
Videoconferencing applications like FaceTime, Skype, and Google Hangouts, enable the elderly to not only communicate with friends and family, but see their familiar faces. Be sure to check with nursing home staff to ensure the device is clean and your family member is comfortable with how the technology operates.
Technology isn’t exactly designed for the eyes and fingers of seniors, and the Greatest Generation just happens to be outstanding at letter writing. It might not occur to younger generations to sit down and write a letter to a loved one in a nursing home, especially when an email or a text is more efficient, but letter writing is a lost art form and a wonderful way for seniors to express themselves and connect. Encourage participation from everyone in the family. Even better: call your local nursing home to see if they have an approved means to send letters or cards to lonely residents. Everyone enjoys getting “good” mail from the post office, and it’s even more true at a nursing home. Be sure to spray your letters and envelopes with a disinfecting spray (e.g., Lysol), and seal your envelopes with a moist paper towel instead of your tongue.
Friendship Line (800-971-0016)
The Friendship Line is a 24/7, toll-free phone line for people aged 60 years and up. Offered by the Institute on Aging (IOA), the phone line is a friendly chat with trained volunteers who specialize in conversations with seniors with depression. They’re always looking for new volunteers.
Not all nursing homes are pet friendly, but if your loved one is in a facility that allows pets, now is a great time to get one. Pets are amazing companions and are scientifically proven to relieve depression and extend lives. Plus, a pet provides an amazing improvement in the quality of life at a time when social contact is limited.
Virtual Social Events
This one requires some internal technical setup, but many of the activities that seniors enjoy can be done with social distancing through technology. With a combination of webcams and videoconferencing applications (and a skilled host), you can connect residents for games like bingo, trivia, and karaoke. This type of setup is used in business all the time, and it doesn’t require a ton of money or technical sophistication to bring a sense of fun, community, and normalcy to the elderly loved ones you know. Call your nursing home to see what barriers would need to be overcome, in terms of equipment and setup costs, to safely connect residents for virtual events.
Social isolation in nursing homes is not a new phenomenon to the COVID-19 outbreak. Social isolation can be a form of neglect for residents who do not have the support or physical ability to get sufficient social interaction. It can also be a form of psychological abuse, when social contact is deliberately removed (e.g., as a punishment). Lack of access to social interaction is also a major contributor to unreported cases of other forms of abuse, making these individuals without a support system extremely vulnerable.
The attorneys at Brown & Barron specialize in representing nursing home residents who have been neglected or abused. We know, first-hand, how these facilities function, and just how vulnerable residents are.
To learn more about how the coronavirus is affecting Nursing Homes and their residents, visit our Coronavirus Update blog. Also, if you believe you or a family member has suffered as a result of nursing home negligence, call our team today at (410) 698-1717 to learn more about your rights and options.