Dr. Martha K. Presley and Dr. Bill Frist – Opinion contributors
USAToday.com | Coronavirus has led to social isolation and lack of caregiver support. That can be fatal for fragile elderly people who don’t have the virus.
Coronavirus has changed the way we see life and health care. The immediate focus has been on infected patients. However, the effects of the pandemic are more widespread. Here are two patient stories that emphasize the far-reaching impact of COVID-19:
Mr. Smith was an 83-year-old man who was in good physical and mental health, until he fell and broke his hip. He underwent surgery, but as many elderly patients do, suffered delirium from the surgical anesthesia. His delirium worsened with new medications and no family to help orient him to a normal daily routine. In bed with medical devices, new medications and no family is a recipe for disaster. But Mr. Smith could not have his family visit because of the appropriate visitation policies. He spent 30 days alone in the hospital. His delirium worsened, and eventually his wife chose to transition to hospice so she could be with him. He died a week later.
Ms. Jones was a 93-year-old with Alzheimer’s disease. She was living in a memory care unit and was social, interacting with others and enjoying activities. When she was isolated because of COVID-19 precautions, she became confused and anxious. She could only see her family through a window. Because of her increasing agitation, her medications were increased. The amount of nursing oversight was decreased. One morning, she was found on the floor with bruises to her chin, a broken hip and a bleed in her brain. Her family did not want to put her through the stress of a hospitalization and surgery. She was admitted to a hospice house so her family could visit. She died a week later.
Coronavirus is particularly deadly for the elderly. In 14 states, half of COVID-19 deaths are in long-term care facilities, and the deaths of the residents and workers account for a third of the national death toll. But those are just the deaths from infected patients. Mr. Smith and Ms. Jones did not die from COVID-19. They died because of it.