The truth about this pandemic is that it took us all unawares. No one knew what to expect and with it came a lot of anxiousness of the unknown. The first thing that obviously became a top priority was to protect people physically from it and to avoid it spreading. These measures were lengthier and even the more rigid with those who like the elderly are vulnerable.
However we are now realising that we are reaping the effects of the measures we had to take during the pandemic. Even if thankfully numbers are now negligible, we still are facing the many consequences it left behind it. Just like a tsunami leaves a trail of destruction and debris as it takes its path, we are left now to pick up the pieces of what the effects of such a pandemic has left. Working with the elderly has made us more sensitive to these effects. Although at times subtle and not easily recognized, some were brought to the surface when relatives started visiting their loved ones once more.
The most heartbreaking of all are those relatives who expressed their distress because on returning after three months to see their loved ones, who suffered from dementia, the latter did not recognise them. They had forgotten the familiar faces they once knew. They cried stating that they had not lost their loved one to COVID but had lost them through the separation it had imposed and some even questioned if it was worth it after all. They did not do this out of ingratitude but because they had still experienced a loss and it was a permanent one.
We realised that some elderly had become depressed by the isolation which was imposed by lockdown. The separation for some from their family was too much to bear. No social media, no calls or video calls can ever replace touch or physical proximity. Although these things do provide some solace through some form of communication, they are a far cry from what human beings need especially when one is elderly and frail. All human beings crave touch and such devices cannot provide it.
So the question which we found ourselves at times reflecting on these past weeks, was whether it was all worth it. There is no doubt that the relief of keeping the elderly safe from COVID is unimaginable, but on an individual level, one feels that at times, this was done at a cruel cost, since certain collateral damage, like the forgetting of a loved one, can never be recovered. Although not so physically demanding on the body like COVID, the effects will still take a psychological toll on loved ones and affect the quality of life of some elderly which in turn effects their physical health at times. Public health officials all around the world commented on how isolation during COVID caused a rise in mental illness especially depression. Isolation also affected much worse persons who already suffered from mental health issues and with this their isolation grew.
This is not unique to the elderly sector. Takotsubo cardiomyopathy also known as “Broken Heart Syndrome is when the heart muscle becomes suddenly weakened or stunned, which mostly happens after severe physical or emotional stress. This thankfully it can be temporary. In the study at two Ohio hospitals, they noticed a significant increase in this syndrome. These are patients were not affected by COVID, but doctors believe that the stressors caused by the pandemic, whether they be social, physical, or economic took a toll on people ( Kalra 2020) They concluded in fact that current patients were two times likelier to have broken heart syndrome than they were before the pandemic.
“The pandemic has created a parallel environment which is not healthy. Emotional distancing is not healthy. The economic impact is not healthy. We’ve seen that as an increase in non-coronavirus deaths, and our study says that stress cardiomyopathy has gone up because of the stress that the pandemic has created.” Kalra (2020)
So although COVID 19 seems to be on the decrease let us keep our eyes open and not forget that there is an aftermath. Let us be more sensitive and aware of those vulnerable adults who may still be suffering its consequences. Let us be empathetic with those who need to speak about it and listen to their concerns and fears. COVID may strike again, and if it does we need to repeat what we did well and improve that which we did not. We must not overlook what the effects have been and to balance it out with the good of the person and take into consideration not only their physical well-being but also their psychological welfare.
The unknown is now known and with it people know what to expect. This time they may not be so complaint and want to decide what is good for them as individuals. Public Health officials must reflect well on the measures to be taken and on their extent and imposition. Even if no pandemic strikes, we will still have to deal with the effects that this pandemic left us with, and we will be facing these effects for years to come. At no point should we undermine what people are expressing or feeling, as if we do then we are doing them an injustice and this time the consequences of decisions taken, especially on those who are vulnerable may be worse.