Are we neglecting the mental health of seniors?

Six Feet Apart: Sheila Wohlgemuth visits with her granddaughter on June 14. Wohlgemuth was isolating at home with her husband, up until restrictions in place for COVID-19 were lifted on June 12. (Photo by Clare Ottenbreit/The Press)

The mental health of seniors is often overlooked in order to put their physical health first when speaking about COVID-19.

Epicentres of the current pandemic include nursing and care homes.

Recently released stats collected by researchers at the London School of Economics (LSE) shows the proportion of deaths due to COVID-19 in care homes in different countries around the world. In Belgium the percentage was 53 per cent, in Canada 62 per cent, and in Spain 67 per cent.

These statistics show the need for seniors in these homes to be isolated to protect their health and well-being, but there is a risk to their mental health as well.

In the April 2, 2020 editorial of Wiley Online Library: Older people and Covid-19: Isolation, risk and ageism, in the Journal of Clinical Nursing, Joanne Brooke and Debra Jackson wrote: “The acknowledgement of social isolation and loneliness of older people is essential and paramount due to the detrimental impact on their physical and mental health, which has been recognized for over two decades. Social isolation and loneliness increase other people’s risk of anxiety, depression, cognitive dysfunction, heart disease, and mortality.”

The elderly in these care homes have had family visits, socialization and access to the outdoor banned.

The families of these seniors are noticing their loved ones failing in health, and suffering anxiety and depression.

Sally Woodard, a 100-year-old woman previously living at a care home in Scenic Acres in northwest Calgary, now lives with her son and grandchildren.

She moved in with her family because of the social isolation she faced.

The nurses at Scenic Acres advised her family to put her into palliative care. Woodard had given up on eating and would refuse to get out of bed. Previously, she had received daily visits from her granddaughters.

Her granddaughter, Brigid Colomer, now takes shifts with her siblings because Grandma Sally, as she is affectionately called by her family, requires 24-hour care.

“This time with her is really precious, it’s an opportunity for us to treat her with the most amount of dignity and love as her grandkids,” said Colomer.

In the time that she has lived with her family, her health has returned.

Grandma Sally is now walking and eating again.

“We were weighing the options… would we rather her die from lack of affection or from COVID,” said Colomer. “No matter what happens she is surrounded by her family, which is super important.”

Grandma Sally’s family was concerned she wasn’t getting proper care in the home.

“One of the nurses said, they can’t give her that love and affection that we can give her because they have other patients to see.” -Brigid Colomer

It is possible that we need to re-evaluate how isolated the seniors should actually be.

They may not die from COVID-19, but they may die because of it.