According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), elderly patients are at increased risk of complications and death from the COVID-19 virus than the rest of the population. In the United States, 8 out of 10 deaths reported were in people 65 years of age and older. Older adults have increased risks associated with COVID-19 because they are more likely to have more comorbidities and weakened immune systems.
Primary settings play a major role in the transmissibility of the virus. Skilled nursing communities are a concern because the virus can rapidly spread to its occupants who are highly vulnerable. Some skilled nursing facilities have eliminated visitor hours in order to protect patients. Socially distancing is complicated for patients in these settings as they many of them are now further isolated from friends and family. While this practice may potentially be better for stopping spread of the virus, it has raised psychological concerns. Research has pointed to a link between social isolation to a variety of physical and mental conditions, including cognitive decline.
Dr. James M. Lai, MD, MHS, MSc, of Yale New Haven Hospital and Yale School of Medicine says that “we’re facing an unprecedented dilemma in that we know socialization is incredibly important to the health of older adults—and yet, right now, isolation is really important in protecting this vulnerable population from COVID-19.”
Because of the pandemic, many physicians have turned to telehealth in order to connect with their patients. Lai believes that these technology platforms may be a way to socially connect older adults. He believes that that “we need to keep pushing the envelope so that older adults are able to become more comfortable with technology which could open up a whole new world for older adults who might have previously been homebound or socially isolated.”
While technology is not a cure-all, Lai believes that the circumstantial turn towards technology has resulted in a bigger advance in telehealth over the last couple of months than that of the last few years.
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