Isolation, loneliness of pandemic taking a toll on senior citizens, mentally and physically

Health
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February 07 2021 05:30 pm

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Nearly 10 months into the pandemic, the effects of isolation can be difficult, especially on the metro’s senior citizens who can’t always see loved ones and friends. 

Joyce Herod’s family said it’s been hard to see her struggle at a distance. The 82-year-old used to see her family all the time, but since March she’s only seen maybe a handful.

“I think her whole life revolved around us coming up there and spending time with her, seeing the grandkids, seeing I mean, the dogs, the grandkids. It didn’t matter who came up there as long as it was one of us,” her son David Herod said.

For the past four years, she’s been living in a care facility but was always up and moving. Since the pandemic started, she’s fallen and broken her hip — not to mention the effects of spending long periods in isolation.

“She was walking with her walker prior to COVID. Now she cannot feed herself. She cannot walk. She cannot feel her legs. She has nothing. She can do nothing but lay in bed. How does that happen?” her daughter Karen Klett said.

“When you have a certain quality of life, and it deteriorates in such a short period of time, there’s got to be some element in there that had expedited that decline in physical wellbeing,” her daughter Paula Rich said.

Dr. Brian Carpenter is a professor specializing in geriatric psychology at Washington University in St. Louis. He couldn’t speak to Joyce’s specific case but said isolation and the pandemic are harder on older adults beyond worrying about the virus.

“There’s some research to suggest that loneliness and isolation may be just as bad for our physical health as smoking is. So we understand that being alone, feeling isolated and lonely can be very stressful and damaging for people,” Carpenter said.

He said the best thing family members can do is over-communicate with their loved ones and be there for them emotionally as much as they can.

“Step up their contact with their older relatives compared to what they were doing before, make more phone calls, text more off and send more emails, go back to some of the old tried-and-true methods like writing a letter or sending a card,” Carpenter said.

“Reach out as much as you can,” Klett said. “It’s taken away the most important thing for them, especially at the end of their lives, is their family.”

Carpenter said the pandemic is also affecting seniors who are delaying medical care to avoid the virus, which can cause a possible deterioration in their health.

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