The coronavirus pandemic is not only taking a toll on the area's elderly physically, but also is having an impact on their mental health as well, according to the results of a recently released survey.
EMC Health Foundation partnered with J. Wallin Opinion Research to poll residents aged 65 and older in 19 cities and ZIP codes in Stanislaus and Merced counties. The results have informed new, targeted programs that are funded by the organization’s charitable dollars.
“Months of isolation have taken their toll on our seniors, family and neighbors,” said EMC Health Foundation President and CEO Jeffrey Lewis. “We undertook this poll to understand better how COVID-19 is impacting people 65 and older — we wanted to learn about their fears and the specific services they need so our foundation can better target our charitable dollars. Our goal is to help our local seniors fight social isolation, inform them about the services they can access, and help them thrive throughout this pandemic and beyond.”
Survey results included the following:
* 84% of seniors are concerned about COVID-19. Intensity is high, with nearly a supermajority (64%) are very concerned.
* COVID-19 has added stress. More than 56 percent of seniors say the pandemic has made them feel anxious and overwhelmed.
* Seniors feel entirely alone. Sixty percent report feeling socially isolated.
* Nearly one-third report significant mental health effects. Thirty percent of seniors said the virus had had a considerable impact on their overall mental health. Nearly one quarter said they have wanted to find help but have not been able to find mental health services during the pandemic. If possible, 19 percent would welcome a visit from a health professional to their home.
* They are not seeking medical care. Twenty-five percent of seniors are afraid to leave their homes to find needed medical care; meanwhile, 21 percent say COVID-19 has had a significant impact on their overall physical health.
* Seniors want in-home medical care. About 30 percent of seniors have delayed seeing a doctor during the pandemic, but over one in 10 of those 65 and older said they would welcome a doctor or nurse practitioner to their home.
* Access to food has become a huge concern. Almost 40 percent of respondents said they are afraid to go shopping or to the grocery store for fear of becoming infected. One in four said it would be helpful to have a service deliver healthy food to their home.
* They are terrified of losing their independence. Almost 30 percent of seniors said they are afraid of losing their independence and ending up in a long-term care facility. Nearly half the respondents said they were unwilling to live in a nursing home, and an additional 20 percent profess they would rather die than permanently reside in a nursing home.
“While the community debate about the response to this pandemic changes daily, nearly everyone agrees that seniors are at the greatest risk,” Lewis said. “Yet conversations about the best way to help these seniors often aren’t informed by discussions with the seniors themselves. Creating programs that seniors cannot access, do not need, or will not use is a waste of valuable resources.”
Lewis said the results of the survey will help EMC Health Foundation shape and create plans and programs that can best service the area's seniors during this time.
“When government-funded programs for seniors are limited or do not provide adequate and timely assistance, the elderly are put at undue risk,” Lewis said. “The polling data underscored the need for charitable dollars to help ensure that people 65 and older have access to needed care to avoid the fears identified in the poll and ensure their long-term independence.”
EMC Health Foundation will debut a new online portal, www.usfreemeds.org, that will assist people who cannot afford to fill or refill their medications. Additionally, area seniors can now access a full-time dietician through Castle Family Health Services, who will help them plan healthy and nutritious meals.
Lewis said that based on the polling data, additional new initiatives will be announced over the upcoming weeks and months.
The poll was conducted by J. Wallin Opinion Research via a telephone survey from July 10 to 16. The 381 residents, who fall under EMC Health Foundation’s sphere of care, spoke live on the telephone with professional interviewers, answering questions about how COVID-19 has affected them emotionally and mentally and impacted their access to services. The sample size of the survey was stratified, meaning the demographic breakdown of those surveyed is comparable to the demographic analysis of the eligible zip codes.