The Novelle Coronavirus, or COVID, has stolen one and half years from the world. The continued threat, fear and restrictions continue to affect our daily lives. The impact on older adults has been even greater. Loneliness and Isolation – already classified as their own pandemic pre-COVID – are on the rise. So, what does the future hold?
Initial numbers show that COVID-related isolation and loneliness are on the rise among persons over 50, with some studies reporting upwards of half of all older adults reporting an increase in loneliness during the first few months of the pandemic. Closures of congregate meal sites and community centers have compounded this effect. The good news: as older adults are able to re-engage, those statistics are improving rapidly. Older adults are feeling an increased comfort and freedom that vaccinations provide. Many senior centers are back open with increased safety protocols in place. It is estimated that as we learn more about the transmissibility of COVID we will be able to adapt our reactions without widespread closures again.
Older adults living in congregate living facilities were some of the hardest hit. Lockdowns that lasted months did little to prevent the spread of COVID to our most vulnerable. Although families, friends, and many professionals (like care managers) could not get in to see residents, staff and patients returning from hospitals were still spreading the disease at high rates. The cost of keeping seniors from family and friends has proven to be too high, so universal lockdowns are going away. There still may be pockets of tight visitation restrictions when COVID cases rise in certain facilities. But, we will likely see greater regulation and oversight of congregate living. Many facilities have proven that with proper protocols and staff training, the spread of all infections can be minimized. In time, this will become the norm.
While this is the first pandemic in most of our lifetimes, past events show that life moves on – even if to a “new normal”. Kevin Larkin, professor of clinical psychology at West Virginia University, stated recently, “Everybody is on their own journey, getting to the same place. I think that people are going to take it at their own pace – and there’s not a right or wrong pace.”