By Preeti Minhas
COVID-19 has greatly affected everyone’s lives, from contracting the virus to death to unemployment. However, we may not have thought about the many people in senior centers across America that have struggled with the transition from the old world into a world of isolation. The seniors at long term care facilities in New York City have been affected negatively by the coronavirus at disproportionately high rates. There was a sense of uncertainty and confusion during the beginning of the transition and now seniors have to face the feeling of isolation. The staff, the elderly and families of the elderly have all had to make adjustments and have been hit hard by the coronavirus. They have worked very hard to provide the previous level of care while maintaining CDC guidelines and staying cautious. The people involved in long term care have all faced troubling times since last March and it is important to appreciate and applaud the work they have done to ensure the safety of many lives.
Firstly, it is proven by scientific data that long term care facilities (LTC) were hit hardest between the months of April and August. One analysis was completed by the Kaiser Family Foundation and showcased how the number of cases and number of deaths in LTCs changed over that time period. In fact, the study indicated that although the number of cases LTCs had were only about 8% of the total coronavirus cases, the number of deaths were about 40% of the total coronavirus deaths. The reason federally available, facility specific data does not include the months of March and April, is because it only became a requirement for facilities to report information after the date of May 7th. This excludes when the number of cases and number of deaths peaked the most. Initially, in mid-April, there were 10,000 deaths and 50,000 cases in LTCs; in August, 70,000 deaths and 400,000 cases were reported in LTCs. It was also shown that these patterns connected to national patterns indicating a link between community spreading of cases and deaths to LTCs. This analysis clearly illustrates the connection between LTCs and the spread of COVID-19. The global pandemic has severely disproportionately impacted long term care facilities.
Secondly, a simple virtual meeting with the elderly in your local senior centers can help their mental state immensely. As a matter of fact, John Leland interviewed many seniors for a The New York Times article voicing their thoughts on life before and after the outbreak of the virus. He visited the Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Center and quoted the following from Anna Reifman, “I’m really isolated now. This isn’t just about lunch. I come here to talk to people other than my cat.”. Another article by Naveen Dhaliwal for ABC7 News stated that bi-weekly meetings improved the seniors’ mental and physical health. An example of this is when seniors called cardiologist, Dr. Narendra Bhalodkar, after meetings to tell him that their blood pressure would go back to normal levels and they would feel less depressed by just talking to each other. Something as simple as having a conversation can help tremendously with mental health and help them get through the anxiety they face over being isolated or in response to the pandemic in general.
What can we do to help? There are many ways to contribute to boosting the health of the elderly, but ultimately it depends on the facility. You can contact your local senior center or elderly home and ask how you can help make them feel better. Some facilities are accepting handmade cards, virtual cards, Zoom Meetings and even recorded videos of yourself with nice messages to the elderly. Your school may also have clubs or events that collaborate with facilities in order to interact with the elderly. For instance, the Academy of American Studies has a Glamour Gals Chapter in which they create virtual cards for the elderly to read, so that they know we miss them and hope to see them soon. Any small act of kindness can make a huge difference for them.Personally, my volunteer experiences taught me about easing the emotional state of extended care facility residents and the happiness it can bring them. They desired conversation with our members much more than the manicures my club, Glamour Gals, provided them. I’ve made deep connections with a few women from the Queens Boulevard Extended Care Facility, and they express to me how much they appreciate and value the time I spend with them. Therefore, it is important to the elderly to create intergenerational connections by helping those who feel the most secluded. If you are able to, please contact a local facility and find out how you can safely contribute to helping improve the mental and physical health of our elderly. The countless long term care facilities all across the country cannot be forgotten as they are affected deeply and need special care.