How important is human interaction to our health?
That question has been on the minds of those in long-term care since mid-March when federal officials advised nursing homes to prohibit visitor access. Four months later, it appears the answer to that question undoubtedly seems to be “very.”
Three experts said as much in an op-ed published in the Washington Post on Monday. Harvard professor David Grabowski, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania physician Jason Karlawish, M.D., and law professor Allison Koffman argued that nursing homes should revisit (no pun intended) blanket visitation bans because of the harm inflicted as a result of isolation.
I think this makes sense. Intuitively, we all know that being cut off from our loved ones creates a whole host of problems — from sadness and loneliness to anxiety and depression. Then there are the indirect healthcare benefits that loved ones provide up close. For example, they can notice that something may not seem right with Mom or Dad that they can then relay to caregivers. (In a similar vein, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services acted appropriately when it updated a memo to remind facilities that they must continue to give ombudsman access to residents. It is important for residents to be able to talk to these advocates.)
Ultimately, while the lack of human interaction may not be as harmful as contracting COVID-19, face-to-face contact is powerful medicine. I thought of this last week when I visited my dad who has been recovering in a rehab facility. I talked to him from outside and through a window — on our respective phones. Once we got over the strangeness of it — we joked that it was similar to visiting an inmate — we thoroughly enjoyed our time together. When I left him, I felt that we had had a nourishing conversation.
Just this short time together can sustain people for hours, days or weeks. What do you call such visits? As Mastercard might say, priceless.
Liza Berger is senior editor of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.