Group settings with coronavirus rules are safer for seniors than the loneliness of living alone
Here at Neville Place we were thrilled to hear the recent news that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended that residents and staff of assisted living communities be included in the first group to get the coronavirus vaccine. We very much look forward to the physical protection it will afford our residents.
But it is still uncertain when our area’s elderly population who are living at home alone will be vaccinated. In the meantime, while they wait for the vaccine to roll out in the coming months well into next year, they continue to be at greater risk than the seniors living in our community concerning their mental health.
Why is this? We all know firsthand the toll this virus has had, and multiple studies have been done this year on rising rates of depression and anxiety. For the elderly living alone, one of the worst impacts of Covid is loneliness. Long before Covid, research documented prolonged loneliness as a higher risk factor of premature death than lack of physical activity or obesity – just as dangerous to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. On the flip side, research has documented the wide-ranging benefits of interacting with people daily, having a social life and being engaged in meaningful activities. In fact, socialization has been found to be one of the most important “treatments” for someone with dementia.
The seniors in assisted living communities right now are getting out of their apartments, attending lectures and entertainment, going to fitness classes and having meals in the dining room. Yes, they are adhering to mask wearing, physical distancing and hand washing guidelines, but that hasn’t stopped them from socializing.
And while people may be nervous about living in a communal setting now, these days assisted living is a highly controlled environment with strict safety, sanitizing, screening and testing protocols in place to keep residents, staff and visitors safe.
Families need to know that they have options if they are seeing their elderly relatives struggling, not just with loneliness but with the physical or cognitive decline that often accompanies prolonged isolation. An assisted living community can be a lot safer for these elders, especially when the alternative leaves them isolated at home alone day after lonely day, or for those who are getting personal care or other services from a revolving door of private duty caretakers.
Alan Lappas, executive director of Neville Place
Neville Place is an assisted living facility by Fresh Pond.