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The consequences of isolation in nursing homes

One of the first mandates following the initial days and weeks of the coronavirus pandemic was protecting the elderly, particularly those who reside in nursing homes. Family visits, a time-honored tradition in these facilities, were placed on pause in an effort to ensure the health of residents. Yet, in spite of those measures, COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes still accounted for more than 35 percent of the fatalities.

While fewer visitors can stem the virus's spread, other factors, when combined, can put nursing home residents at risk of declining health or death.

Coronavirus Protections Putting Nursing Home Residents at Risk?

Denying face-to-face interactions was a cure that ended up creating more problems ranging from depression to weight loss. Personal contact with family has taken its toll on residents as well, particularly when it comes to dementia patients dependent on familiar faces and consistent routines. More concerning is the long-term social isolation that can generate excessive stress hormones that can increase the odds of dying by 20 percent.

A handful of states have acknowledged the problem and increased access for family members to maintain routines to preserve both mental and physical health. New York has more strict guidelines that allow for limited visitation via virtual interactions, with in-person visits becoming an option provided that two weeks have passed without a COVID-19 case.

Nationally, "compassionate care" visits remain valid options subject to varied interpretations. The most common being patients who are dying. In addition, those who recently entered a nursing home or suffering the trauma that comes with a sudden disconnect with family are included under that category as well. Outdoor visits are encouraged, weather permitting.

While more is known about the coronavirus than a year ago, the awareness of the health crisis' impact on the elderly may serve as lessons when it comes to the post-pandemic future of nursing home care.

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