The coronavirus is proving to have a large impact on our everyday lives. Going out in public now seems to be a distant fantasy for many areas that are now facing strict stay-at-home orders. While I believe social distancing is a necessary precaution to take in slowing the spread of COVID-19, it’s hard for me not to think about the older population that is being negatively affected.
Although many Americans are being asked to only leave their house if it’s absolutely necessary, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that individuals 65 and older avoid going out at all. Due to their age, these people are more susceptible to becoming dangerously ill or even dying from the coronavirus. According to the CDC, 80 percent of coronavirus deaths were in adults 65 and older. However, asking senior citizens to stay home could also prove to have a negative impact on their health. According to the National Institute on Aging, social isolation in seniors can lead to health problems such as cognitive decline, depression and heart disease.
While some seniors are involved in community activities or groups, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 11 million, or 28 percent of people aged 65 or older live alone. This means that some older individuals who were getting out and socializing are now being confined to homes with no one to keep them company. This issue is also presenting itself in nursing homes. According to the CDC guideline to reduce the spread of infection, nursing homes are restricting all visitations, restricting all non-essential healthcare workers and volunteers, canceling all group activities and monitoring residents and workers for fever and respiratory issues. While these are definitely reasonable guidelines in this situation, there’s a concern of how this isolation will affect an older person’s physical and mental health. In the case of COVID-19, the most vulnerable people become even more vulnerable by what the CDC is recommending.
The recommendation to social distance could also cause harm to the older population of Americans economically. According to research from the Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging at the University of Massachusetts Boston, 50 percent of older adults who live alone and 23 percent of older couples do not have enough money to pay for their financial needs. Due to seniors not receiving enough money each month from the government once they retire, some are forced to get some kind of part-time job. According to AARP, adults aged 65 and older are twice as likely to be working today compared to 1985. With the recommendation to stay home, these individuals are unable to come into work resulting in losing a paycheck.
While social distancing is critical to flatten the curve, the isolation could be harmful to senior citizens. However, I think there are some steps we can take to assist those who are vulnerable. In nursing homes, residents could take part in social distancing activities. Whether it’s a virtual movie night or playing games like Bingo from their rooms, keeping these seniors engaged is important during this crisis. Another solution to this issue is to ensure quality internet access to seniors all across the country. If seniors are unable to see their families, they should be able to visit with them via Zoom or FaceTime. While nothing compares to an in-person visit, this might be the best we can do for a while. Eventually, this will all be over, and we will be able to hug our loved ones once again.
Erin McNemar can be contacted at: