Thunder Bay·Audio

Social isolation, cognitive decline amid pandemic a concern for local seniors

A geriatric specialist in Thunder Bay Ont., who works with patients over 60-years-old, said he's seen social isolation due to the pandemic impact the senior population.

Local doctors says cognitive function, mood among concerns for adults over 60 yrs amid pandemic

An elderly woman pushes a walker along a path in the gardens of a senior care home (Sean Gallup/Getty)

Seniors have been the most impacted by COVID-19, however the risks of the virus itself are not the only concerns for the age demographic during the pandemic.

A geriatric specialist in Thunder Bay Ont., who works with patients over 60-years-old, said he's seen social isolation due to the pandemic negatively impact the senior population.

"Seniors are a very resilient group. And early on, they seem to do actually relatively well compared to others. But as far as the pandemic drags on, we do know that social isolation and loneliness are associated with worse outcomes in seniors in terms of both their health, their function and also mood and cognition," explained Dr. Peter DeBakker in an interview on CBC's Superior Morning.

Seniors are one of the groups of people who have been the most affected by the pandemic. And while elderly people are more at risk of catching the virus, that's only one of the ways COVID has dramatically changed their lives, and may be having a negative impact on their health. Dr. Peter De Bakker is a geriatric medical specialist in Thunder Bay. He works with patients at St. Joseph's Hospital and the Thunder Bay Regional Hospital. He spoke with the CBC's Amy Hadley. 7:33

For many, the isolation during the pandemic has resulted in a less active lifestyle and decreased social engagement.

DeBakker said locally, medical professionals are seeing more people who are becoming "deconditioned," an increase in falls and people with cognitive and mood issues that could have been addressed earlier.

"I can't say for sure if we're going to see an uptick in rates of dementia or frailty or other conditions, the expectation is that we probably will," he said.

'Balancing act'

Access to care has been another concern amid the pandemic for the elderly demographic. DeBakker said in the early days of the pandemic, fewer people were seeking out care in a timely fashion mostly due to fear of coming in contact with the virus.

He said while that trend has improved, patients are still facing challenges when it comes to in-home care.

"I'm seeing people who are concerned about bringing in, for example, the home care that they need because they're concerned about catching the infection. And so in every case, it really changes the balancing act of whether or not they want to have the assistance in the home that they require or try to get by with maybe some family help or otherwise," he explained.

DeBakker said during this time it's important for family members to check in on their loved ones to promote social interaction and adds that it's just as important for seniors to keep up with physical exercise as well.