Credit: Dean Mitchell / Getty Images Plus
Credit: Dean Mitchell / Getty Images Plus

Nursing home residents who had no contact with family or friends during the COVID-19 pandemic were more likely to die than counterparts who had regular contact with loved ones, according to a new study published Friday in the Journal of Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine.

The findings, which were presented by a Toronto-based research team, compared Ontario resident data from January 2017 and September 2020. Investigators found that during the pandemic, there was a 57.8% increase in mortality for residents without family or friend contact, while those with family and friends saw a 17.1% increase in mortality rate. 

“These residents may have experienced reduced access and/or other deficiencies in care if stripped of the extra care typically provided by staff, and with no family/friends to advocate for needed care,” researchers concluded. “They may have also been less resilient to pandemic-related stressors because of their isolation; loneliness and social isolation have been shown to increase the risk for premature mortality.” 

Remaining in contact with family or friends didn’t offer full protection from COVID-19. Overall, 13.4% of confirmed COVID-19 deaths in Ontario occured in residents who had contact with family or friends, the researchers found. Those without family contact represented 9.5% of total COVID-19 deaths.

The findings are consistent with other research conducted throughout the pandemic that found lonely seniors may have shorter lifespans and fewer healthy years than their peers. Isolated seniors have also experienced more falls and reduced activity levels.

The issue has prompted calls for providers and caregivers to intervene.

Check out the special five-part series, “Lonely at Home,” by McKnight’s Home Care for additional information on isolation among seniors.