Adults aged 65 and older account for 16 percent of American adults, but 80 percent of deaths from COVID-19 and 40 percent of all COVID-related deaths have occurred in nursing homes.
These statistics are not only a tragedy; they are a travesty. We must do better to protect our elders, especially those who live in community settings like nursing homes. Alas, we have a long way to go.
If you have a loved one who’s living in a nursing home, here are some things to think about, and some things worth fighting for:
- Elders with dementia can’t be given responsibility for safety.
You can’t just remind these elders not to touch their faces, or to remember to wear a mask or wash their hands. The facility needs to supervise, make sure these things get done.
- Push for testing. Push for testing results that are reported promptly.
If it takes a week or two to receive test results, it’s hardly worth doing. Facilities need to get results in a day or two. That’s the only way they can track cases and contacts. That’s the only way they can institute a quarantine if necessary. Remember, 60 percent of people who test positive have no symptoms. Staff must be tested regularly.
- If residents or staff test positive, insist on 14-day quarantines.
Those with the virus must self-isolate. That is the only thing that will stop the spread. New residents also should quarantine for 14 days.
- Facilities must institute measures to decrease isolation.
Everyone needs human contact. Make sure the facility has programs that allow elders to interact safely: outdoor activities, socially distanced music, one-on-one interaction.
- Ask what the facility is doing to restructure care during this crisis.
For instance, if a staff person helps each resident eat, that is also a chance for socializing.
Elizabeth (Dr Liz) has over twenty years of experience in providing medical care to the elders. She is board-certified in Internal Medicine, Geriatric Medicine and Palliative Care Medicine. Dr Landsverk founded ElderConsult Geriatric Medicine, a house calls practice, to address the challenging medical and behavioral issues often facing older patients and their families.