Addressing the Mental Health of Isolated Older Adults During COVID-19
Updated: Jan 19
The isolation in the wake of the COVID-19 stay at home orders has affected us all. However, certain segments of the population have been impacted even more so, and that includes older adults. Seniors over the age of 65 have been identified as particularly at risk of complications arising from coronavirus, especially if they have underlying conditions or immune compromising diseases.
While stay at home orders applied to everyone, it hit older Americans especially hard, as they often live alone. This can make a tough situation even tougher when you add in the fact that visits by family and friends were essentially put on hold for three months – and counting, for many people.
Dr. Faustino Bernadett and his wife initiated Project Sapphire, a program designed to reach isolated adults with friendly telephone calls to reduce loneliness. It targets those in assisted living and senior care facilities, part of a special program that utilizes a volunteer pool that was slated to quickly reach more than 100 older adults by June.
Dr. Bernadett also works alongside the City of Long Beach Older Adult initiatives and Culver City Fire Department to reach isolated seniors. A white paper has also been shared on the Federal Lifeline program to help isolated seniors access cell phones and broadband so they can remain connected to health care resources, as well as family.
Combating Senior Isolation
Senior isolation has been called America’s quietest health risk. Even though it’s one of the biggest threats to the health of America’s seniors, it’s still among the most difficult to recognize. At least a quarter of all seniors suffer from it, and that number has risen sharply during quarantine. Sadly, its effects can be felt physically, mentally and emotionally.
The COVID-19 pandemic is especially dangerous for older adults as well as people who have underlying chronic health conditions, such as:
● High blood pressure
● Cardiovascular disease
● Respiratory disease
The problem of senior isolation has worsened with social distancing measures. Because older adults are at an increased risk for serious infection from coronavirus, many senior living centers limit the number of visitors residents can receive. While those restrictions are slowly starting to ease, the damage has already been done to the mental health of seniors and their families – many of whom have lost a loved one during isolation and never got the chance to say a proper goodbye.
Many older adults who live at home have been forced to live for three months or more without important social interaction, as stores and restaurants closed down, and religious services and family gatherings were cancelled.
Isolation poses many serious health threats to seniors.
● They are often cut off from benefits and resources for which they are eligible.
● They may not get necessary medical attention in a timely manner, resulting in a seemingly minor injury or illness to worsen without care.
● They have an increased risk of high blood pressure, depression, dementia, malnutrition and other health issues, and are more likely to engage in risky behavior such as alcohol abuse or tobacco use. They are also more vulnerable to elder abuse.
Dr. Faustino Bernadett, having worked with the senior population for decades as a chronic pain specialist, knows the seriousness of the isolation issue, compounded during COVID-19 shut downs.
To learn more about Dr. Bernadett’s efforts during COVID-19 when it comes to mitigating mental health risks for isolated seniors, please visit https://www.bernadett.org/