Across the country, the COVID-19 pandemic has created a crisis for nursing homes, assisted living residents and staff, with more than one third of the COVID-related deaths in the U.S. being traced back to nursing homes.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 48 percent of nursing home residents are living with Alzheimer’s or other dementias and, among older adults in assisted living and other residential facilities, 42 percent or more have some form of Alzheimer’s or other dementia. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, individuals in nursing homes and assisted living communities are especially vulnerable and face additional challenges.
I’m all too aware that those with dementia are particularly susceptible to COVID-19 due to their typical age and their significantly increased likelihood of coexisting chronic conditions. Now add to that the community nature of care communities and the susceptibility is even greater We need to learn from this situation and do a much better job of caring for our older citizens. Not just their physical health, but just as important is the mental health of these cherished citizens. Most of them do not have a clear understanding of what is happening. They want to see their family and friends We also need to implement a communication protocol that will give family members updated information about their loved ones in a timely manner.
The Alzheimer’s Association is sounding the alarm and released important guidance urging policymakers to implement new solutions to address the dramatic and evolving issues impacting nursing homes and assisted living communities:
• Each nursing home and assisted living community must have the on-site capability to verify that all residents, staff and visitors are free of COVID-19 infection, whether or not they are symptomatic, through testing.
• All cases of COVID-19 at nursing homes and assisted living communities need to be reported immediately and accurately.
• Any reported “hot spots” should trigger careful, ongoing monitoring and, if conditions warrant, “strike teams” should be employed to the facility to provide needed support until the outbreak is contained and eliminated.
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• All nursing homes and assisted living communities must have full access to all needed PPE, testing equipment, training and external support to keep them COVID-19 free.
Our nation has not done enough to protect this vulnerable population and the people who are caring for them. Adopting these recommendations for testing, reporting, surge activation, access to PPE, and other necessary support must be done immediately. Our older neighbors deserve our support.
David Storey is board chair of the Alzheimer’s Association Iowa Chapter.