The elderly, particularly those in long-term care, have proven extremely vulnerable throughout the pandemic.  But experts say well-intentioned measures to keep them safe are also taking a toll.

What You Need To Know

  • Decline among older people in isolation is called “adult failure to thrive.”

  • Experts have warned for years about the dangers of social isolation.

  • COVID-19 put the issue into focus.

John Thombleson was an Army vet and an FSU graduate who spent more than 30 years as a principal in the Duval County School District.  But, most importantly, his daughter tells Spectrum News he was a wonderful father.

That’s why, in his later years, she visited her father at his nursing home every day.

“He loved hugs,” Jenny Reid said.  “He loved embraces.”

The need for human touch was something Reid said her father missed dearly during the nursing home lockdown, an extremely difficult time compounded even further by the loss of Thombleson’s wife of 70 years the month before. Instead of grieving with family, Reid said her father was alone, and within weeks, his health began to rapidly decline.

He passed away on June 11.

Reid received her father’s death certificate two weeks later, which listed his cause of death as “adult failure to thrive.”

“I was so upset, I cried,” Reid recalled. “I cried because I felt like he had been deserted – that he had been isolated away from his loved ones, and he didn’t understand why.”

For years, experts have warned social isolation contributes to elderly decline, and now, COVID-19 is putting the issue into painful focus. A newly-released study by AARP shows two-thirds of adults in the United States have reported experiencing social isolation during the pandemic.

“The way isolation and loneliness works on the body is that it adds stress,” said Jeff Johnson, AARP Florida State Director. “And if you are already frail, you already have other health conditions, they’re going to make those even more dangerous.”

That means the long-term care population is at higher risk, though just how many have already been affected is hard to measure.  It’s something researchers say they will likely have a better understanding of in the months and years to come.