VALUE LIFE: Pandemic restrictions taking a toll on seniors’ mental health

Value Life

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TYLER, Texas (KETK) – Isolation and loneliness are silent killers in nursing homes across the country. Experts worry pandemic-related visiting restrictions have only made it worse.

“I’ve seen people who have been doing well for 10, 15, 20 years with no issues with depression, and all of a sudden…with the isolation and the unknown…it is causing an increase in depression and anxiety with people who were doing well.”

Lindsey Little, Oceans Healthcare

Ronnie Keith is the proud son of a 96-year-old World War II veteran. His father, Billy Jack, lives in an assisted living facility in Henderson. Before the pandemic, Keith would visit his dad several times a week.

Ronnie Keith and his father at a casino in Shreveport. (Keith Family photo)

“We would sit down and visit or talk for an hour or two about whatever he wanted to talk and visit about,” Keith says. “If he needed to get a haircut, I would load him up and take him to the barbershop. We would go to visit the cemeteries and put flowers out. “

Once visitor restrictions were put in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Keith says his dad became bored and gloomy.

“It affected him a lot. I know he missed me seeing him and my brother seeing him because it was two or three times a week.”

Even before the pandemic, social isolation was a serious health risk for older Americans. Loneliness can lead to an increased risk of:

  • Dementia
  • Stroke
  • Heart failure
  • Depression

Oceans Healthcare, with behavioral hospital locations in Longview and Lufkin, recently hosted a round table discussion with East Texas nursing facilities. During the meeting, staff focused on how to best support the mental needs of residents. 

“The goal of this was to bring in the social workers, administrators, nurses, staff, activity directors and the people who are there with those residents,” Lindsey Little, community liaison for Oceans Healthcare says. “We wanted to bring them out of the building and figure out what we could do to help. We were able to let them know we can come to their facility and provide telehealth so those residents can get services while still in the facility. “

Experts say communication is key to getting our family members the help they need.

“Letting people know that it’s okay to ask for help and that help is there. That’s huge. “

Lindsey Little, Oceans Healthcare

Keith is able to visit with his father again for limited amounts of time.

“They notified us that we are going to start letting you have 30-minute visits out on the porch,” Keith says. “Only two members of a family at a time and everyone has to wear a mask and stay socially distant. We did that for a couple of weeks then the visits got to be longer.”

Billy Jack Keith during World War II. (Keith family photo)

Keith says he is going to cherish the memories left to enjoy with his father, but he has a message for those with family in nursing facilities.

“You need to check on your loved ones. You need to be there for them. I always think about my dad and all the times he was there for me and my brother. Check on them and do everything you can for them. Enjoy the memories you have left. “

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