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COVID-19 isolation compounding health issues for seniors

A Tigard woman says she has noticed a decline in her own mom's mental health because of the coronavirus isolation.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Since early March, senior care facilities have been shut off from outside visitors because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"They're locked in their rooms, three times a day they are getting food in a box and that's it," said Diana Marsden, whose mom lives at a Tigard assisted living facility.

That isolation period has had dramatic effects on those separated from the outside world.

"What I've found with my mom, which I feel is consistent probably with most of the seniors: The more isolated she is, the more paranoid she's becoming," Marsden said. "She's becoming more afraid of the germs."

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Her parents, Hermina and Galen Goodale, shared a room at the assisted living facility. They loved to watch sports together and put together puzzles. They were married for over 60 years. 

At the beginning of the isolation they had each other. But on March 20, Galen contracted the coronavirus. He died two weeks later. He was 93 years old.

"He was just a wonderful guy. Everybody loved my father," Marsden said. "He was friendly, he was outgoing. He was kind of a jokester. He was an ordinary guy. He was a great guy, loved his family and his friends."

Dr. Shirin Sukumar is the medical director for geriatrics at Legacy Medical Group. She said a sudden change of routine and months of isolation can cause anxiety, depression and a feeling of being overwhelmed by the circumstances.

Dr. Sukumar said more of her senior patients are telling her they feel less connected.

"This in turn can lead to other things like maybe decreased appetite, tending to spend more time indoors watching TV, which can lead to deconditioning, muscle weakness, higher risk for falling," Sukumar said. "These are all things we've been seeing more recently."

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Sukumar recommended for seniors, especially those living at home, to get outside and walk around the neighborhood if they are able to. She said doing so can help stimulate the mind. Puzzles, coloring and painting are other great ways.

For those inside care facilities, Dr. Sukumar said staff needs to help fill the void.

"What I am recommending is that staff be more involved in their care," Sukumar said. "This might mean checking in to see how they're doing, having conversations with them, having music that's calming in the background."

Marsden said her mom just became a great-grandmother and saw her great-granddaughter for the first time a month ago.

Credit: Diana Marsden

"That's been about 4 weeks ago, since then my mom is scared to see the baby. She's like, I'm just not comfortable with these germs. She just won't go out and see the baby now and that's just so sad for me."

Diana says she would like to see the Governor or government step in and create a task force of some sort bringing together professionals in the senior care and elder care field to come up with a plan to serve this segment of the population.

"They can't just be put in a room and forgotten about."

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