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As virus spreads, UNE's Susan Wehry says connectedness necessary for seniors in isolation

Susan Wehry, M.D.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, UNE Chief of Geriatrics Susan Wehry, M.D., says connectedness, in addition to healthy diet and exercise, is key for seniors self-isolating from the virus.

March 23, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has presented challenges for people across the entire planet, and older adults are particularly at risk. 

That is because the virus and the deadly respiratory disease it causes, known as COVID-19, disproportionately affects older adults. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 80% of COVID-19 deaths are among people age 65 and older. In Maine, the nation’s oldest state with more than 276,000 people of that age or older, the threat is very real. 

Frequent and thorough hand-washing and social distancing techniques are effective strategies for mitigating the spread of the disease. But isolation can have negative consequences for older adults, according to Susan Wehry, M.D., chief of the Division of Geriatric Medicine within the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Wehry recently spoke with the Portland Press Herald about the side effects of social distancing on Maine’s seniors, including those with dementia, a disease whose symptoms can be exacerbated by disruptions to daily life.

“As time goes on, the longer a person is alone, it makes it more difficult to manage health conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure,” Wehry told reporter Kelley Bouchard. “Everything about this is a cascade effect.”

Wehry encouraged those in isolation to eat healthy and exercise when they can, get enough rest, and try to focus their time on positive activities. She also urged those who can do so to spend time outdoors, and for community members to reach out and connect with isolated seniors.

Many groups across Maine are doing what they can to connect older adults to their communities, including setting up virtual knitting groups and gaming clubs, to help establish a sense of normalcy.

“There are ways we can stay in touch,” Wehry said. “A five-minute conversation can be very helpful.”

Read the full article in the Portland Press Herald.

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