The coronavirus has caused a staggering number of deaths in America, including 134,200 people who died from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, according to federal statistics, said The Washington Post. Further analysis of these numbers found that that 13,200 more died than normally than normally expected. Experts said that people with dementia are dying, not only because of the virus, but from the very isolation that is meant to protect them.
Social and mental stimulation are two of the few tools we have to slow the progress of this debilitating disease, according to Dementia Care Central. “Social interaction is healthy, like exercise for the brain, and can slow symptoms, including deteriorating memory,” experts explain.
Contributor Stacy Torres, writing for USA Today, said the closing of public spaces to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 has made it difficult for the elderly to mingle and interact socially. The threat of the virus has forced them to stay confined in their homes without access to the very interaction that is their lifeline.
Torres, an assistant professor of sociology in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco, calls for government leaders to ensure public health messaging and science-based policies to protect all citizens, but especially seniors, so that they can venture into the world safely and interact with others. One step would be mandating masks, she said.
‘If we don’t hash out a long-term strategy to protect each other, we’ll live in perpetual isolation,” she said. “Without aggressive action to ensure that we can age safely and comfortable in the community, we risk forever losing the neighborhood spaces that thread our increasingly frayed social fabric.”
Older people have an extra level of fear from the virus, say experts. They know they are more at risk of being hospitalized or dying than their children or grandchildren, and they also know that time is short. While they have the experience and coping skills to deal with this new crisis, they do not want to waste the time they have left in isolation. One retiree in her early 80’s told The Philadelphia Inquirer that she hates being cooped up.
“Being locked in a prison, that’s what it feels like,” Gayle Perlmutter, who lives in a New Jersey retirement community, said. “Here’s your food. It’s on the ledge.”
Medical experts told USA Today that while the coronavirus is particularly deadly for the elderly — half of COVID-19 deaths occurred long-term care facilities — many do not die from the disease, but because of it.
Dr. Martha K. Presley, an assistant professor of Clinical Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Dr. Bill Frist, a heart transplant surgeon and former U.S. Senate majority leader, said that social isolation and loneliness are well known risk factors for increased mortality in patients with advanced age and disease.
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