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The Age of Isolation: How the elderly are declining in the age of COVID-19

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(WBNG) -- Investigating the negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the elderly population, 12 News shares the story of one Southern Tier family with a devastating journey through COVID-19.

Fran Davis, 88, is the proud mother of five children, more than a dozen grandchildren and come spring, will wear the title of great-grandmother for the first time.

"She is the rock in the family," said one of her daughters, Lisa France.

Fran Davis, Johnson City

Known for her delectable desserts and birthday cards for each grandchild,
about 15 years ago Fran's children noticed changes in their mom's memory.

"She started questioning maybe her recipes, if she had mailed out a bill," explained daughter Kristen Moyer.

Years later, a doctor diagnosed Fran with Alzheimer's Dementia.

"Sometimes she'll say 'I must be going crazy, because I can't, I don't remember doing that,'" described Moyer.

Eventually, it was determined Fran could no longer live alone and moving to United Methodist Homes Hilltop Campus would be a safer setting.

Despite a bumpy start, she grew to make friends and while she lived in a new place, her very active social life both in and outside Hilltop didn't stop.

But then it was 2020 and COVID-19 was in the country.

Fran's daughters explain she went from a full life of constant activity to almost no social interaction at all. For months, they said she was confined to her room, even for meals. No visitors, no trips outside of the nursing home.

Fran and her daughter Kristen looking at family photos

"I think any of us would go crazy if we tried to do that," said Moyer.

A flip in lifestyle, coupled with a declining memory, that they said was devastating.

Imitating her mother, France said, "Why did you put me here? Why are you abandoning me? I can't believe that you kids can't come and see me, none of my friends have come, everybody has dropped me, nobody acts like I'm alive anymore, I might as well be dead."

Come Easter, Fran contracted COVID-19 and beat it. Her family explained, however, the sickness was the least of their problems.

Holding back tears Moyer said, "It was hard, there's a bench outside her window and I'd go up sometimes and sit on the bench, she's on the second floor, but we talk on the phone."

While her children gave her all the support they could, for someone who forgets seconds later, it at times just wasn't enough.

"You can tell her all you want, mom we love you, we want to be there, there's a pandemic and we can't come, she feels so lonely and abandoned," said France.

12 News' Julia Gorman speaks with Fran's daughter Lisa over Zoom

Praising Fran's nursing home, but forced to face the many restrictions of the pandemic, Lisa and Kristen watched not only their moms memory, but mood and personality slip away.

Fran was also impacted physically, often getting an upset stomach when under distress.

Medical Director of Lourdes' Geriatric and Palliative Medicine Dr. Jerome Mikloucich explained Fran isn't the only one suffering so severely.

"I think it is having a global impact on our elderly," he said.

And just like Fran's family, he questions if the virus itself really is the biggest enemy.

"What's worse the COVID and the damage it can do once it gets in your nursing home or the restrictions and the isolation that it's putting on our senior population?"

Rattling off a laundry list of side effects, he said, "The avoidance of necessary medical care I think is critical, they're losing their physical capabilities, they're becoming more dependent for personal care and on other people to help them out."

With an end result he says can and has been deadly.

"I've seen patients who have been stable for years with their disease, now declining for the first time in a long time, I mean they've had a slow, insidious, but now you see this significant decline and you worry that that decline is a decline towards death," said the doctor.

After months of isolation, Fran was finally reunited with some of her family just a few weeks ago with no windows, screens, or telephones.

The reality is, however, the pandemic isn't over and Lisa lives several states away.

"The next time I see her, is it going to be that she doesn't know me, or is it going to be that she's going to be in a casket?" asked France.

Looking to the future, Fran's family wants improvement, some kind of solution to what their mom has gone through. They said they're willing to be apart of a plan to prevent her experience over the last few months, from happening again.

12 News reached out to the United Methodist Homes Hilltop Campus about this, they said they're working hard to keep residents both active and connected while at the nursing home.

They said methods to do so include:

  • Visitation booths
  • Helping residents talk to loved ones on the phone
  • Using iPads for virtual visits, games and church services
  • A transformation of its activities programs
  • Bringing in community entertainers and a musical therapy program

In a full statement, UMH Hilltop Campus said:

"All of the restrictions are imposed and mandated by the state and local departments of health as well as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and are intended to protect and prevent COVID -19 among our most vulnerable population.  We recognize these are very difficult times for our residents and their families. As it is for many people right now including those seniors who are isolated at home in their communities. We continue to learn different and “new normal” and safe ways of engaging our residents, including connecting residents to their families through video visits, visitation booths when open for visitation, window visits with cellphones, and assisting them to make phone calls to their loved ones.  Our resident safety as well as their psychological health is also extremely important and our top priority. We’ve invested in technology including iPads for staff and residents to use for these virtual visits and IN2L activity systems which is essentially a virtual activity center with a multitude of games, streaming services (including church services), not to mention a complete revamping of our activities programs focusing on 1 on 1 visits, room to room programming and small, socially distanced programs. Special community entertainers have been scheduled outside in areas where residents can open their windows for musical enjoyment. We have made other connections with the community for additional engagement for our residents, such as a musical therapy program through zoom with Fredonia University.  This is a challenging time for all, but we will continue to adapt to this forever changing COVID journey to ensure we are supporting our residents in the most positive way."

Julia Gorman

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