The Covid-19 pandemic has taught the world a new way to live and manage situations that we have never dealt with before. Whether we have been traveling, working, or attending social events, we may have the misfortune of being exposed to the virus, causing us to quarantine for a few days while we await the results of a nasal-swab test. Those who have tested positive, advance from waiting out test results alone to living in isolation while they fight the virus and hopefully get better again.
Another concern is the effect of social isolation on vulnerable populations, such as people in towns under lockdown, children who do not attend school, and seniors. Recent studies have reported that two-thirds of adults say they are experiencing social isolation, and 66 percent say their anxiety levels have increased during the pandemic.
Living Alone with Covid-19
Covid-19 presents itself differently in every patient, with some people experiencing little to no symptoms for a few days, others living with what feels like the flu, and those who unfortunately must be hospitalized or isolated at home while they struggle with more severe symptoms. As if the physical challenges were not enough, being isolated for an unknown amount of time can take an emotional toll on patients, especially considering the virus comes with so many unknown conditions.
Patients can experience anxiety, depression, and even fear, and due to isolation, have no one present to help them work through their feelings. Respondents to a recent survey report that while they have been checking in with friends and family more frequently to fight feelings of isolation, this may prove to not be enough to sustain a healthy mental or emotional state if the pandemic persists.
Loneliness – that feeling of distress people experience when they spend a large amount of time alone due to any circumstance – has already had a foothold on many people with various lifestyles or circumstances that limit their contact with other people. The pandemic, however, has turned loneliness into a potential health crisis all its own. Loneliness has been associated with a wide range of physical ailments, from high blood pressure to diabetes, as well as a weakened immune system — not something anyone wants to experience during a pandemic. A 2015 metanalysis of 70 loneliness studies concluded that over seven years lonely adults had a 26 percent greater risk of non-suicidal death.
At one time, there was a more obvious remedy to combat loneliness – company. A short visit from a relative, a neighbor, or a volunteer, can lift the spirits of a person living alone by re-establishing the human connection and reigniting energy, ideas, and a sense of belonging. The unfortunate byproduct of the Covid-19 pandemic is that an in-person visit simply is not possible. Does that make pandemic isolation a potential health concern? Some argue it does. Agencies like the CDC and AARP are taking a serious look at how human contact affects the emotional health of isolated and quarantined people and the recovery of Covid-19 patients.
How Do We Connect?
Friends and family may call to check in and offer support, but no one can spend hours on the phone, on a video call, or sitting outside the door to ensure the well-being of the patient. While social media is a powerful tool for maintaining direct contact, small children, older adults, and people who are sick may not have the wherewithal of ability to manage their social media contact.
Virtual Observation is a way to support that need because it is the nature of a Virtual Sitter’s job to manage communication with someone in need. While this is normally a patient with a specific set of risks, MedSitter has discovered that during the pandemic, the communication capabilities of virtual monitoring offer support benefits that go beyond preventing accidents or emergencies.
MedSitter Patient Virtual Observation stations provide two-way audio/visual functions that allow the patient to be not just a subject of observation, but one person communicating with another. The tools that were originally designed to monitor patients with a high risk of injuries or other issues are now being used and appreciated for their ability to simply help a patient not feel so alone.
The big difference is in the two-way communication features of the stations. MedSitter’s audio/visual tools allow the patient to see and hear the Sitter, establishing a connection and changing the dynamic from one person issuing commands and preventing risks, to two people engaging in a conversation. Even if the conversation is about the patient’s health, the knowledge that there is a presence in the room can have a strong impact on the well-being of the patient – something our clients have experienced firsthand:
A hospital patient was observed by a Sitter as being very irritated, trying to pull the cords connected to his monitor. The Sitter used the communication tool to ask if the patient was okay; the patient replied that he just wanted someone to talk to. The Sitter remained present and calmed the patient down just by having a pleasant chat.
In another instance, a senior patient shared with the Sitter that they were feeling depressed. The Sitter alerted the nursing staff of the patient’s emotional state; the nurse was able to sit and talk with the patient until he reported feeling better and was visibly less anxious and in better spirits. In a similar situation, a patient started the morning extremely anxious and was able to express that to the Sitter. Just by checking in with the patient and having some small talk throughout the morning, the Sitter was able to calm them down significantly.
And it is not just about having a nice chat. The ability to see another person when a patient is required to be alone establishes a human connection that is proven to reduce the anxiety and depression that comes with loneliness. While these may seem like just examples of basic exchanges that could happen any time between two people, there is a stark difference between everyday conversation and being present for a person in a health crisis. In the age of the Covid-19 pandemic, when there is so much that we don’t know or understand, the possibility of heightened anxiety increases dramatically. MedSitter has created an opportunity for healthcare providers to offer more comprehensive care, by allowing them to support a patient’s emotional state while they are receiving care.
[i] AARP Foundation. The Pandemic Effect: A social Isolation Report. https://connect2affect.org/the-pandemic-effect/
[ii] Davis, Michelle. Pandemic Has Created Loneliness Epidemic, New Report Shows. AARP online. Oct 8, 2020. https://www.aarp.org/home-family/friends-family/info-2020/isolation-survey-coronavirus.html
[iii] AARP Foundation. The Pandemic Effect: A social Isolation Report. https://connect2affect.org/the-pandemic-effect/
[iv] Lanzito, Christina. Loneliness During Pandemic Can Lead to Memory Loss. AARP online. Aug 20, 2020. https://www.aarp.org/health/brain-health/info-2020/pandemic-isolation-memory-loss.html