Isolation and visitor restrictions on nursing home residents to limit the spread of COVID-19 are having negative effects on the wellbeing of seniors, according to a new survey released by Altarum, an Ann Arbor research and consulting company.
The Altarum survey, one of the first to directly poll nursing home residents about their pandemic experience, was taken of 365 residents in Michigan and 35 other states who responded to the survey. It was conducted from early July to August 31.
Some 76 percent of respondents reported they felt lonelier under the visitor restrictions, which vary from state to state. The responses were expected as 64 percent of residents said they no longer even leave their rooms to socialize with other residents.
Previous research has shown that social isolation can accelerate declines in physical and mental health.
“Hearing the residents’ own words about how restricted and lonely they feel really hit home,” said Sarah Slocum, co-director of Altarum’s Program to Improve Eldercare, in a statement. “Hearing an elder say they feel like they are in prison is heartbreaking. We need to change this.”
Residents were asked how often they engaged in common social and other activities after the COVID-19 restrictions were imposed compared to before the outbreak.
The survey findings show that residents’ ability to move freely around their homes, leave the facility, have outside visitors or socialize with fellow residents have declined sharply since March and that those restrictions have taken a toll on their emotional health.
Other highlights of the survey include:
- Social interactions outside the nursing home have dropped sharply. Only 5 percent of respondents reported having visitors three or more times per week compared to 56 percent before the outbreak.
- Some 93 percent of respondents reported that they did not leave their nursing home in a given week for routine activities such as shopping and visiting family compared to 42 percent before the outbreak.
- Only 28 percent reported they went outside to enjoy fresh air one or more times a week compared to 83 percent before the outbreak.
- Social interactions and activities within the nursing home have also dropped sharply. Some 54 percent reported they are not participating in any in-home organized activities, including exercise classes, art classes, resident meetings, and religious services, compared to 14 percent before the outbreak.
- Only 13 percent reported eating their meals in the dining room compared to 69 percent before the outbreak.
Since March, nursing homes and state officials in Michigan have been working to develop and implement effective visitation policies and infection control measures that tries to balance safety with access to family and friends.
On Wednesday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer revised rules related to the care of Michigan nursing home residents. It maintains stringent infection control policies for nursing homes and increases regulatory oversight of special COVID-19 units for residents.
The order also lifts a previous prohibition on communal dining and group activities that would allow more social interaction.
In late June, the state Department of Health and Human Services expanded the reasons for visitation at long-term care facilities, hospices and other residential centers to include family members or friends who assist residents with activities of daily life such as eating, bathing or dressing.
Visitors to these types of facilities have been restricted to slow the spread of COVID-19. Nursing homes have experienced high rates of positive coronavirus cases, and one-third of the more than 7,000 deaths in Michigan were nursing home residents.
Whitmer’s order also requires nursing homes to inform legal guardians, health proxies, prospective staff and residents within 12 hours of a positive COVID-19 resident or employee.
The recommendations came from an Aug. 31 report by the Michigan Nursing Homes COVID-19 Preparedness Task Force.