Researchers from the University of Notre Dame in America have analysed the deaths data from U.S. nursing homes and come to a disturbing, if not unexpected conclusion. While ‘higher quality’ nursing homes generally had lower Covid deaths, they had higher overall deaths, and this appears to be because the brutal Covid isolation protocols they followed to reduce transmission proved deadly in their own right. Furthermore, while the difference between the Covid death rates in higher and lower quality nursing homes diminished after the first wave, the difference in total overall deaths continued to increase, suggesting, tragically, that the brutal protocols were continued long after they ceased offering any benefit at all.
The background to this tragedy is that on March 13th 2020, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) recommended that nursing homes restrict “visitors and non-essential personnel” from entering the home and cancel “in-person dining and other group activities”. These policies, the researchers write, came at a considerable cost in human wellbeing: “An abundance of qualitative evidence from nursing home staff, administrators, and resident family members suggests that the lack of in-person contact with loved ones and other residents not only generated feelings of loneliness, isolation, and despair, but may have also expedited death.”
Existing research shows that social isolation increases both dementia severity and the likelihood of adverse outcomes among those with Alzheimer’s and mortality among the elderly. According to CDC provisional data, there were 56,464 excess deaths (i.e., realised deaths above that which is predicted using historical averages) among Alzheimer’s patients through early October of 2021; however, only 22,709 or 40% had a corresponding positive COVID-19 diagnosis, leaving 60% of these excess deaths not directly related to the disease but to other aspects of the pandemic.