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An Invisible Tragedy of COVID-19

by Ira Chilton

I have personally witnessed my wife’s concerns as her mother, who has been housed in an Assisted Senior Care facility (ALF) within a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC), has noticeably deteriorated over the past nine weeks of COVID-19 lockdown. I am hearing others expressing the same or similar concerns. Why isn’t anyone addressing this? What is driving the health deterioration of those in lockdown but without COVID-19 infection?

We have been told repeatedly the risk of COVID-19 infection increases with age. While recent events in Florida seem to indicate that the twenty to forty age group can be impacted heavily also, we will not argue against the fact that older age tends to increase vulnerability. That being said, the next action that surfaced was social separation as the best way to protect the elderly. Of course, with that separation, sanitation and sanitizing are also implicated as a parallel need. So, facility after facility across the U.S. locked its doors to keep the elderly separated from the danger that existed. Staff were trained in sanitation policies and routine test procedures to enter a facility. Concurrently all non-staff was forbidden to enter.

In many cases, where family was actively involved with care, the social separation causes emotional strain on the entire family. The few glimpses of the elderly family member, often through windows or over the phone, evidenced obvious concerns of health deterioration. Why was there a no screening methodology for active family to be able to qualify under the same conditions as staff to assist? We have not gotten a single word on that…silence. It certainly seems doable at the face of the idea. Locking the elderly away from caring family members certainly seems draconian. Maybe it is an insurance risk and vulnerability thing, that often explains away issues like this.

So, what causes the noticeable erosion of health of these individuals? Is it simply an entire season of the year has passed? After all they are elderly and would likely be in a state where some deterioration of health could be expected. But for many it is the acceleration or obvious witnessing of the deteriorating health that has surfaced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The challenges for people living with cognitive impairment make the issue even more recognizable. They obviously have difficulty understanding the dangers of infection. Certainly, washing their hands or practicing social distancing is not something in their nature. This certainly contributed to some of the thinking of why lockdown was a necessary, at least in the U.S. But has it accelerated their impairment?

This pandemic has opened our eyes to how poorly funded, and disorganized long-term care facilities are. This certainly has not eased the concerns of the family and certainly could have heightened the observations made of their love one’s health during this period of time. The care givers having to wear masks as a necessary precaution cannot be diminished, but one wonders if this need does not exacerbate the isolation and loneliness. After all, loneliness is a known contributor to negative well-being and mental deterioration.

There is much to research and discussion needed on this issue. We do not need to sweep this issue under the proverbial carpet. This issue needs to be a public discussion because it is a widespread issue. It is an invasive health and social condition that spreads beyond the elderly directly impacted and it needs a voice.

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