Dementia and Alzheimer's effect about 50% of nursing home residents, and have a first year mortality risk of 25%. It is believed that an accumulation of beta amyloid and tau on the brain contributes to dementia, and studies have shown that loneliness and isolation increases these accumulations.
“The combination of social isolation and loneliness is very unhealthy for anyone, but for older adults, it’s particularly bad,” said Bert Uchino, University of Utah psychology professor who studies the ways in which social relationships affect health. “Just about every biological system is impacted in one way or another by psychosocial relationships.”
Failure to thrive effects up to 40% of nursing home residents, and has a mortality risk of 16%. Accoding to a study in Candian Geriatrics Journal, "Older patients are predisposed to FTT for both age related and sociodemographic reasons such as social isolation, inadequate social supports, and low socioeconomic status".
“I’m seeing a lot of patients with pronounced situational depression,” she said — “decreased appetite, decreased energy, a lack of motivation and overall feelings of sadness. If this goes on for months longer, I think we’ll see more people with functional decline, mental health decline and failure to thrive,” said Jennifer Olszewski, an expert in gerontology at Drexel University. Increases in cases of both extreme weight loss and hospice also suggest failure to thrive is accelerating during COVID isolation.
Even when nursing home staff are well trained, motivated, and compassionate - it can be difficult for them to find the time to give residents the individual attention that can help them to engage. Staff often rely on group activities, and these may not always provide enough stimulation to stave off lonelinss and isolation. Especially for at-risk residents, who may have cognitive issues or who may not be socializing adaquately.
Family members have both the time and the personal knowledge needed to interact longer, and more meaningfully, with their loved ones.
According to BBC News, The Alzheimer's Society claims that "family visits were effective at stimulating feelings of happiness, comfort, and security. Even as the condition progressses". It said that people with dementia "can still hold on to emotional memory. This means that they continue to feel happy long after a visit or an experience may be forgotten".
The emotional benefit of family visits can also help to stave off failure to thrive. Long term care physicians and nurses encourage loved ones to visit frequently. They say that regular visits help residents to maintain a sense of belonging and a more positive attitude, making them less vulnerable to depression, weight loss, and failure to thrive.
With COVID positivity <1% in NYS, this is clearly the time to let family caregivers back into nursing homes, so that they can help to stave off dementia and failure to thrive. On that basis, we call on NYSDOH to allow resumed visitation of our loved ones immediately.
For every week that passes during isolation, another + 60 residents will die needlessly from increased risk of dementia and failure to thrive. Texas, Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania all have more accomodative visitation policies despite higher COVID positivity rates. They understand the essential role that loved ones play in the health of the resident.
Our advocacy group strongly believes that there should always be a visitation policy that allows for some level of esseential care from family members, regardless of COVID positivity. Not socially-distanced care - but care that affords family members the same level of interaction that staff have. So that we have the ability to touch, hug, feed, and be close to our loved ones.
We ask Governor Cuomo and Commissioner Zucker to show that they understand our essential role as family caregivers. It's time to let us visit again.