A Frightening Combination: Nursing Homes and COVID-19
If you have been following the news regarding everything and anything about COVID-19 you have read or heard that various “hot spots” of infection have cropped up throughout the U.S. Ones that have been highlighted include prisons, food production facilities (especially meat packing plants), and nursing homes.
The latter, coupled with assisted living facilities, is particularly scary, particularly if you have a loved one in residing in one of these facilities. Seniors are among our most vulnerable segments of the population for COVID-19 infection.
Couple that demographic with the reality that people in nursing homes and assisted living facilities almost universally have pre-existing medical problems such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic lung disease and cancer and you have an ideal formula for corona virus contagion and contamination.
A recent article by The Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity (FREOPP) discussed the seriousness of COVID-19 within these residences:
42 percent of U.S. COVID-19 deaths have occurred in nursing homes and assisted living facilities
Nursing homes and assisted living facilities are two of the five categories of long-term care providers (the other three are adult day service centers, home health care and hospices}). According to FREOPP nursing homes, also known as skilled nursing facilities or SNFs, include 24-hour supervision, nursing care, three meals a day, and assistance with activities of daily living. Nursing homes can also include people recently discharged from hospitals who are temporarily in need of such help.
FREOPP describes assisted living facilities, also referred to as residential care homes or personal care homes, as being similar to nursing homes but are for individuals who don’t require full-time medical care on-site. They offer meals and assistance with activities of daily living. Residents of assisted living facilities can have some degree of independence based on their physical and mental abilities.
The percentage of COVID-19 deaths varies widely from state-to-state, as shown in the following map. Minnesota has the highest share of COVID-19 deaths, an astounding 81%, based on data from May 22, 2020. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2.1 million people live in nursing homes or residential care facilities, representing 0.6% of the U.S. population. However, based on FREOPP data taken when there were 80,297 U.S. COVID-19 deaths, 33,840, or 42 percent, were nursing or residential care home residents.
U.S. nursing home COVID-19 deaths are not out of line with data from other countries. Researchers at the International Long Term Care Policy Network studied fatalities in Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom and found that 40.8% of reported COVID-19 fatalities took place in nursing homes in those countries.
The gruesome statistics regarding COVID-19 fatalities in nursing homes and assisted living facilities are adding another consideration for those people who are contemplating moving a beloved senior into one of these residences. We want to keep our Moms and Dads safe and comfortable, but right now safety in nursing homes has been very negatively impacted by the novel coronavirus. Seniors aging in place in their own homes has also become more problematic, due to isolation from family and friends stemming from COVID-19 risk.
Consider a Medical Alert Device – Especially When You Can’t Be With Them All the Time
To help keep them safe, many caregivers give their seniors medical alert devices, also known as PERS (Personal Emergency Response System) devices, These devices, usually available in pendant or wristband configurations, help keep seniors safe when you or other caregivers cannot be with them. PERS devices are particularly important for seniors who live by themselves or with a companion. However, they are also valuable accessories for those who live with family or other caregivers who, for the most part, cannot be with their beloved seniors 24/7.
Medical alert capabilities vary widely and may include features such as GPS tracking to locate a lost or injured elder, automatic fall detection to alert you and/or a 24/7 call center when the person has fallen, and alerts sent to both the senior and caregiver covering when to take medications and upcoming appointments with medical personnel and other persons.
Many medical alert devices work in conjunction with smartphones and the accompanying phone applications increases both the capabilities of the PERS unit and helps reduce the feeling of isolation by the wearer.
The need for aging seniors to get and use a medical alert device has been increasing over time due to several factors, including a desire to age in place (at home) and a desire to participate in more activities outside of their homes. The coronavirus pandemic and its severe impact on the health and wellbeing of nursing home and assisted living facilities residents has substantially increased this need, since many caregivers are having second thoughts about locating Mom and Dad in these facilities and, instead, are having them live with the caregiver and his or her family.
Whether they live alone or with a caregiver, a medical alert device should be strongly considered for enhancing the safety and comfort of an aging senior.