"Is this the rest of my life? If so, I don't want to go on."
This is one of the many heartbreaking questions asked of Dr. Louise Aronson, a geriatric doctor from San Francisco, who works with elderly patients who are stuck in isolation
She, like many others, are deeply concerned about the effects that coronavirus-related lockdowns have on the elderly, one of the vulnerable groups they were meant to protect.
"Sometimes the doors to their rooms are open, and you just see someone sitting in a chair with tears running down their face," Aronson said, according to NBC News.
Chester Peske, a resident of a long-term care facility in Minnesota, contracted COVID-19, and though he was asymptomatic, he died shortly thereafter. His death wasn't due to the virus, however. The cause of death was listed as "social isolation/failure to thrive related to COVID-19 restrictions" in combination with his progressing Alzheimer's disease.
Peske is one of at least nine Minnesotans who have social isolation listed as a contributing cause of death from June to September 2020. Social isolation as a cause of death is extremely rare, and before the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic, Minnesota did not have any social isolation-related deaths in at least the last two years.
While the number of coronavirus deaths in Minnesota, over 2000 as of October, dwarfs the number of deaths caused by social isolation by far, doctors and researchers nevertheless are stressing the tragic impact that social isolation has had on the elderly. A study of a Chicago-area nursing home showed that in the first five months of the pandemic, two thirds of their residents had lost weight, often dramatically.
Dr. David Grabowski, a Harvard University expert on health policy, recommends that visitations to long-term care facilities be expanded as researchers and doctors continue to document the lockdowns' impact on the elderly. Dr. Aronson meanwhile says that the lockdowns are linked to an increase in heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke.
A medical professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Joshua Uy, claimed that isolation "accelerates the aging process," leading to long-term care residents forgetting how to perform basic tasks including standing up and eating properly. According to Dr. Aronson, "sudden frailty" should be an oxymoron, but is becoming increasingly more common during lockdowns.
According to Dr. Joseph Ouslander of Florida Atlantic State University, these folks are essentially just giving up on life.
In response to the pandemic of isolation, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued new guidelines in September to expand so-called "compassionate care" visits to nursing homes, which allows family members to visit long-term care facilities when their resident family members are in significant distress or are approaching the end of their lives.
While many states such as Indiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Texas have implemented these guidelines, other states are more strict.
New York, for example, maintains strict visitation rules. Thousands of elderly New Yorkers died in nursing homes of the virus after Governor Cuomo issued guidance that said coronavirus positive patients should be transferred to nursing homes.
Research has also linked the lockdowns and social isolation inspired by the coronavirus pandemic with a wave of mental illness, drug abuse, and suicide, with one in four young adults reportedly considering taking their own lives during the pandemic.