Quarantined and Disconnected: COVID-19’s effects on those with disabilities

Senior citizens and others with conditions that render them especially susceptible to COVID-19 aren’t just struggling because of the potential for contracting the virus — the isolation from months of lost social interaction has been devastating for many.

Assisted living facilities, highly regulated, controlled environments when it comes to social isolation, finally allowed visitation with outsiders to resume in June for those homes that continue to meet mandated safety standards.

We have advocated for safe visits as we know these are necessary for the health and quality of life for our residents,” Pete Van Runkle, Executive Director of The Ohio Health Care Association (OHCA) commented regarding the decision to resume visits.

Technology disconnects

In a statement to the Northwest Ohio Alzheimer’s Association, Lynn Phillips described how difficult it was for her mother to lose contact, and to have to rely on technology for human interaction.

“When she sees us on FaceTime, she does not understand we are not there with her.” said Phillips. “She’ll get up and go to the next room looking for us. That was back in March. Now she just looks down at the screen. Over the last three months she has become non-communicative. She does not say a word…This inability to communicate is new. It’s kind of heartbreaking that it has happened in this period of time when we hadn’t been able to see her.”

Though visitations are possible at both nursing homes and residences of people living with disabilities, it can still be hard to maintain healthy social contacts while being careful with at-risk loved ones. Richard Pilgrim, a local survivor of prostate cancer who lives with progressive arthritis and diabetes, says that some of his only socializing during the pandemic has been his grandson coming over to his home to mow his lawn. Pilgrim previously frequented classic car shows, Mud Hens games and other group events, but now he finds himself mostly alone at home.  “I didn’t get out a lot to begin with, so I don’t see a lot of people that often,” Pilgrim said. “Especially now with this pandemic…the last two three days I haven’t seen a living person. It can be very depressing.”

Everyday challenges

For Pilgrim, simply going to a grocery store or a fast food drive-through provides welcomed and refreshing interaction with other people on an otherwise isolated day. It can be hard for him to cope sometimes, and he’s not alone.

People with mobility issues similar to Pilgrim’s who aren’t well-versed in technology might also find themselves forced to take risks that others might not normally take. For example, though going to the grocery store does provide some human contact, it should probably be avoided if you are especially vulnerable to COVID’s effects. But navigating online delivery and curbside options can be difficult for people who can’t use a computer or, like Pilgrim, don’t  have access to one.

For similar reasons, reaching out through video chats or texting can seem out of reach, creating an unfortunate disconnect between seniors and younger family members.  “My grandkids primarily use texting, but I just have this little flip phone, so trying to do that texting thing is a pain,” adds Pilgrim.

For older adults with disabilities, many aspects of basic living have become more distant, and more difficult, during the pandemic.  Consider these issues with communication and social interaction when planning to include them in social interaction.

For those in need of help getting needed supplies and support, The Ability Center of Toledo is doing wellness calls, along with dropping off care packages. Contact them at 419-885-5733 to inquire about receiving this service.

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