Thanks to author Ashley Abramson for interviewing me and my fellow geropsychologists and for addressing the mental health of older adults in nursing homes.
Protecting nursing home residents during COVID-19
Nursing homes have become hotbeds for COVID-19 — as well as for loneliness, fear and stress for residents, their families and staff.
Many of the 1.3 million residents in U.S. nursing homes are already at risk for loneliness, which research shows can undermine their physical and mental health
. Now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, these vulnerable adults are facing even more stress due to fears about contracting the virus — and those fears are exacerbated now that the support they typically rely on, like organized activities and visits from friends and family, are no longer available.“Social isolation is impacting everyone, in every nursing home around the country because people are stuck in their rooms by and large,” says Eleanor Feldman Barbera, PhD, columnist for McKnight’s LTC News and psychological consultant in New York-based long-term care facilities.
To improve residents’ mental health during this traumatizing time, psychologists are applying their research insights about aging adults and providing resources for residents, families and staff.
For nursing homes who have residents ill with COVID-19, there’s an even more urgent need for psychological support. Barbera notes that up to one-third of nursing homes in the country have been directly affected by COVID-19, and according to recent reports, upwards of 10,000 nursing home residents have died from the virus as of late April.
Barbera says psychologists have a responsibility to encourage facilities to flag residents most seriously affected by the virus so they can receive the care they need. “There are people coming in who have just lost a family member from the virus, or their loved one is still in the hospital,” says Barbera. “There’s an enormous amount of high-level trauma going on.”
Ways to minimize loneliness
Psychologist Karen Fingerman, PhD, a professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, says the kind of family separation COVID-19 is causing isn’t just breeding loneliness, it can instigate grief for residents separated from children or spouses.
“Being separated from someone you love goes beyond isolation; it’s a loss of something that can’t be substituted,” she says. “The loss of connection is pretty profound.”
Psychologist Lisa Brown, PhD, ABPP, a professor of psychology at Palo Alto University who researches trauma, stress and aging, encourages psychologists to brainstorm with residents’ loved ones to identify ways to connect when face-to-face options are not possible for the foreseeable future.