Dying of Loneliness: The Paradox of Covid-19

Even before the pandemic, social isolation and loneliness were considered serious health risks for older Americans because they are more likely to face factors such as living alone, the loss of family and friends, chronic illness, and hearing loss. This social isolation can make seniors more vulnerable to things such as financial abuse, loneliness, and depression. Loneliness often goes hand-in-hand with depression leading to a loss of interest in things that they once loved. This in turn significantly increases the risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s and other serious medical conditions. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recently published a report, Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults: Opportunities for the Health Care System, which found that social isolation significantly increased a person’s risk of premature death from all causes and that this risk may rival that of smoking, obesity and physical inactivity. Now with seniors all across the country confined to their homes or living facilities that are unable to visit with family or friends for their own safety are being threatened by the very measures implemented to protect them.

Residents in assisted living facilities and long-term care facilities who are living with dementia or Alzheimer’s seem to suffer the most from the lack of social interaction. They do not understand why family members no longer visit and it is often times difficult for them to follow conversations on the phone or video. With no daily stimulation from conversing with other residents, caregivers or family members they quickly go from walking, talking and eating to bedridden and nonresponsive according to their caregivers. Social isolation and loneliness are even being listed on death certificates as the cause of death in some states, while others have begun listing “failure to thrive.” Whether the cause of death is listed as loneliness, social isolation, or failure to thrive the one fact still remains: they are dying from an unintended consequence of measures intended to protect them.

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While there is no comprehensive tally of elderly people dying from causes linked to social isolation and confinement, evidence is mounting that restrictions related to Covid-19 are taking a toll on their health, according to a review of recent research and interviews with medical experts and dozens of families across the country. The phenomenon is far harder to track than the number of Covid-19 deaths linked to long-term care facilities- 84,000 as of October, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation- as it is unusual to list isolation as an official cause of death. And we may never know the true number of elderly people that have perished from social isolation and loneliness.

 The good news is that social isolation is being recognized as a serious threat to older adult’s health and their overall well-being. For example, to address the impact of prolonged isolation, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued new guidance in September to help expand “compassion care” visits in nursing homes. The new guidance states that in addition to allowing end-of-life visits, facilities could also permit families to visit residents who are losing weight or dehydrated and need encouragement to eat or drink, as well as residents who are experiencing emotional distress, seldom speaking, or crying more frequently.

If you would like to do something to help seniors who are isolated due to Covid-19 and likely won’t get to see their families for the holidays as Covid-19 cases continue to surge consider sending cards to local long-term care and assisted living facilities, find a senior pen pal, or look into an adopt-a-senior program in your area. Most importantly, don’t forget to check in on your friends and family that are older and may be isolated and lonely, especially as we enter the cold winter months that may be devoid of the normal holiday cheer because of the pandemic.

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Ask Rita: Debunking the Black Cat Bias

Hook Law: Why Are Black Cats Adopted Less?

Rita: Hi! My Name is Rita and I am a Tuxedo Domestic Shorthair. As you can see from my picture I am almost all black in color. Did you know that black cats (black animals in general) have the lowest rate of adoption and typically stay in shelters much longer than their colorful friends? But why? Recent studies indicate several possible reasons for prejudice against black cats, also known as the “black cat bias.” It has been suggested that black animals are more difficult to photograph leading to less attractive postings by shelters. Other potential barriers are the pervasive superstition surrounding black cats and the negative associations of black cats with witchcraft or evil. Black cats may also be seen as less friendly and less playful, which could potentially be due to difficulties reading our facial expressions. However, the most realistic reason that black cats are less likely to get adopted is because they are considered too ordinary because black is the most common coat color in cats. Black cats may look alike but the truth is we are just as unique, playful and loving as any other feline.

Here are some cool facts about black cats and reasons to adopt us:

  1. We look like mini house panthers. And who doesn’t want a mini house panther?
  2. The gene that causes black fur has been proven to make cats more resistant to disease.
  3. In Japan, single women who own black cats are believed to attract more suitors.
  4. In Great Britain’s English Midlands, a black cat is the ideal wedding gift; they’re believed to bring good luck and happiness to the bride.
  5. Black cats can change color. Laying in the sun can turn a black cat a rusty brown color because the sun’s rays break down the pigment in the fur.
  6. Because we are beautiful and unique!

Posted in Senior Law News