Senior citizens impacted by pandemic may feel isolated this holiday season

Published: Dec. 23, 2021 at 4:51 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A holiday surge in COVID-19 cases has people rethinking their Christmas plans.

Health experts say this holiday will be especially tough on senior citizens who may be away from family for their safety against COVID-19.

Just a few weeks ago, there was hope that Christmas gatherings could look a little more normal this year.

Now, with the omicron variant showing to be incredibly contagious with 776 COVID-19 cases reported in just 24 hours in Shelby County Thursday, families are rethinking what’s right for their loved ones.

“Coming behind COVID, it’s important we show unity, we show love,” said Memphis City Council Member Patrice Robinson.

In the final stretch to Christmas, gift giveaways have spread joy throughout the holiday week.

While many giveaways focus on the community’s children, Thursday, Robinson teamed up with Walmart to give gifts to residents at Graceland Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Whitehaven.

“We still need to remember everyone among us, especially our senior citizens and those who are ill,” Robinson said.

No group may be more affected by the COVID-19 pandemic than senior citizens. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports one in every 100 Americans 65 and older has died of COVID-19.

“The other secret part of this pandemic is the loneliness of our older and most vulnerable population,” said Dr. Janan Robinson, Oak Street Health’s senior medical director for Tennessee and Mississippi.

Many of Dr. Robinson’s patients are senior citizens. She said when one’s mental health fails, so can their physical health.

“When you’re down and depressed, the motivation to take care of your other healthcare problems is a lot lower,” Dr. Robinson said. “You may not care to take that blood pressure medicine, you may not care to take your blood sugar medicine, you may not care to stay on your low-carb diet.”

Now, with the rise in cases due to the omicron variant, some families are cancelling their Christmas gatherings.

Shelby County Health Director Dr. Michelle Taylor said a safe gathering would be a small group of vaccinated and boosted people who have been tested and use social distancing and masks when appropriate.

“With our elderly population, our immunocompromised population, and our population under the age of five, they are still at risk for more severe outcomes, so we have to take all those things into account,” Taylor said.

Dr. Robinson said if you are not with your older family members, remember to call or even have a video chat if that’s possible. She even recommends writing letters and sending pictures.

For locations with vaccines and COVID-19 testing during the holidays, click here.

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