MATTHEWS: COVID’s emotional impact on senior citizens cannot be overstated

A man receives a COVID-19 vaccine during an event at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Photo courtesy of Atrium Health

Throughout the past year, we’ve watched the gut-wrenching news reports on the devastating impact COVID-19 has had on senior communities.

One of the few critical things known about the coronavirus by the time it hit America was how senior citizens and those with pre-existing conditions were “at higher risk for developing more serious complications” from it, according to the CDC.

As a result, many states put measures in place severely restricting who could visit nursing homes and assisted living facilities in an effort to reduce the possibility of an outbreak. Senior citizens who live at home have been urged to interact with as few people as possible.

While such measures have proven effective at minimizing the risk of COVID outbreaks at these facilities and among seniors living at home, the emotional impact of isolating them from the outside world has been a different story altogether.

A recent survey done by the Fresno Bee bears this out. According to the paper, “many retirees” said that “isolation from family, friends and other social outings is taking a toll on their mental and emotional wellbeing.” The paper also noted that in another survey, which was conducted by the Fresno Madera Agency on Aging, “42% of respondents reported feelings of depression, loneliness or isolation.”

A week before Christmas, my dad fell while trying to pick up something he dropped. At first, he felt only twinges of pain, but it got progressively worse throughout the week to the point he could barely get out of a chair or the bed. A trip to the hospital ER a week later confirmed he had a “deep bruise” that would take weeks to fully heal.

For a week after that, dad continued to have trouble getting out of chairs and the bed and struggled when he walked with his walker. With the help of a physical therapist, we were able to arrange transport to a physical rehab hospital.

He was there for a little over two weeks. During that time, we were only allowed to visit him in person once — the day before he was transferred to a skilled nursing facility which also happens to be a nursing home.

Many retirees said that isolation from family, friends and other social outings is taking a toll on their mental and emotional wellbeing.

Though we had talked to him daily by phone prior to seeing him, the visit was very emotional. We were allowed to sit next to him and hug him. That also happened to be the day he did his best in the facility’s gym. One of the therapists told us that family visits tended to motivate patients to do better because the visits put them in a better state of mind.

Since he’s gone to the skilled nursing facility, there have been some speedbumps along the way, but he’s gotten better. One of the biggest hurdles, however, has been the inability to visit beyond a “window visit” — those visits you get that are conducted through a window, meaning you can’t hug or touch your loved one.

On our last visit, dad was glad to see us, and us him, but it was clear from some of the things we saw and heard that other patients and long-term residents were missing their families a great deal.

We talk with dad several times a day every day on the phone and we can tell that the restrictions on visiting have been stressful for him. They’ve not been good for my and mom’s emotional states, either.

We’re all managing, though, and if all continues to go well, he’ll get to come home very soon. For those whose stays are longer, I pray things soon return to normal so they can get back to being able to hug their loved ones again.

If there’s one thing we’ve all learned over the last year, those types of interactions and connections mean absolutely everything.

Media analyst Stacey Matthews has also written under the pseudonym Sister Toldjah and is a regular contributor to RedState and Legal Insurrection.