Americans have become too familiar with the concepts of isolation, quarantining and physical distancing over the past few months. However, when it comes to older adults, continued isolation cannot be the new normal, according to Virginia Tech experts in gerontology, Ila Schepisi and Pamela Teaster.
“Like those of us who are free to walk outside, though physically distant, we suggest that it is time to begin conversations and develop comprehensive and safe strategies to relax the lockdown for older adults living in facilities or attending adult day care,” said Scgepisi. “They are, after all, residents and citizens, not prisoners.”
Schepisi is a senior instructor and director of Virginia Tech Adult Day Services with a specialization in geriatrics. She is also the co-creator of Memory Masterclass.
For some older adults, the impact of isolation on mental and physical health can be as dangerous as contracting a respiratory virus. When older adults are isolated from the outside world, a litany of events can occur: falls, general weakness, poor nutrition, lack of communication, depression, cognitive decline and weight loss.
“We recognize that far too many people are dying alone in care facilities, deprived of the company of friends and family,” said Teaster. “While healthcare teams are dedicated, present, and heroically doing their best, they cannot replace the presence of family and those with whom an older adult has shared a lifetime.”
Teaster is a professor of human development and family science at Virginia Tech and director of the Virginia Tech Center for Gerontology. She has a long history of serving the public interest in ensuring that older Americans receive ethical treatment and protection from exploitation and abuse by those in positions of power or trust.
In March, care facilities for older adults locked down under the advisement of state and local government, believing that the drastic measure was critical to stop a potential and horrific spread. At the beginning of the pandemic, there may have been a justified and expected time to lockdown and protect vulnerable older adults at all costs.
Schepisi and Teaster stress that it’s time for innovative new plans that are taken seriously, rehearsed, ready and in place so that we have better options for current and future emergencies.
“We assert that, by developing better plans now, while we are slowly opening back up, we can reduce the images so widely seen in media accounts of residents and family members pressing their hands against glass,” said Schepisi and Teaster.