In Their Own Words: How Nursing Home Residents Feel About Lock-Down

Illness incidence and death rates in nursing homes have been much discussed, as well as successes in infection control such as The Green House Project. Today Altarum, a nonprofit that works to improve the health of vulnerable populations, released a rare peek into how nursing home residents really feel about the restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Written by Anne Montgomery, Sarah Slocum and Christine Stanik, the report, “Experiences of Nursing Home Residents During the Pandemic: What we learned from residents about life under Covid-19 restrictions and what we can do about it,” is drawn from an online survey taken between early July and August 2020 that tracked residents’ lives—how often they left their rooms, whether they ate alone, had visitors, went outside for fresh air, the whole gamut of possible activities. The answers bring into clear relief the stark realities of living in a nursing home during the pandemic.

It’s a bleak portrayal of how older adults have been left alone and adrift (only 5 percent had any visitors), missing family, including spouses, getting outside very little (64 percent did not leave their rooms to socialize), participating in hardly any activities and often eating solo in their rooms (only 14 percent ate meals in the dining room). All this has resulted in a sharp increase in feelings of loneliness (76 percent felt lonelier than usual), and honestly despair, among residents.

“If the virus doesn’t kill me, the loneliness will,” said one resident. Another bemoaned the lack of visitors, saying, “Covid-19 has limited my visits with my son; there is no hope.”

After mid-March, according to the survey, 79 percent of residents reported having no visitors, and only 6 percent were able to leave the nursing home.

On the isolation, one woman said, “I am unable to go out of the building to the programs around town.”

We know 50 percent of adults older than age 60 are at risk for social isolation, and a third will experience loneliness in their lifetimes. We also know, as is abundantly clear from our recent Generations Journal, “Come Together to Fight Social Isolation and Loneliness,” that both conditions put one’s health at risk.

This new report should wake up readers to the fact that there has to be a better way to keep older adult nursing home residents safe, while not isolating them to the point of despair.

Altarum’s aim is to encourage the concept of “distance socializing,” to get these older adults out and into the public eye again, and safely, step by step, integrated back into society. The report also provides a section on connecting via technology, which can work well for nursing home residents. And Altarum provides a long list of recommendations and resources for those who’d like to improve the lived experiences of their nursing home residents. Read the report here.