Death of 95-Year-Old Woman Underscores Detriment of Long-Term Isolation

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Posted: Oct 01, 2020 10:45 AM
Death of 95-Year-Old Woman Underscores Detriment of Long-Term Isolation

Source: seb_ra/iStock/Getty Images Plus

The death of a 95-year-old woman in Florida has drawn outrage from her family after they say the woman willed herself to die amid long term isolation caused by the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic. 

Rita Thomas was said to have been quite active for her age, enjoying a full roster of daily activities as a resident of Zephyrhills Assisted Living & Memory Care near Tampa, Florida, according to the Miami Herald. When the pandemic came to the United States, however, that all changed.  

In March, many states including Florida identified the inherent threat to older Americans in private care facilities and made drastic changes to allowed visitation. Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Agency for Health Care Administration halted all visitors from being allowed to see their loved ones. Few exceptions were made.

Thomas had previously battled cancer and survived a stroke but the isolation became crippling and soon her memory became muddled and she chose to stop eating. 

Her daughter Linda described the heartbreaking commitment from her elderly mother to escape the effects of long-term isolation. 

"She said to me: ‘Linda. I’ve had a good life. I am ready to die. I don’t want to live this way anymore. I stopped eating,'" Linda said.

In less than a month, Rita was being treated for malnutrition. By mid-September, Rita had passed away. 

"Sometimes she’d say something like: ‘I just don’t understand. Why are they doing this to us?’” Rita's daughter Nan said. “We kept hoping they were going to open the doors and I would be able to bring her to my house again, and we’d go out to eat, get her strong."

The lockdowns, dubiously legal moves by state leaders via executive fiat, were never described to people as something that could go on for months, only that they were meant to flatten the curve of the disease and allow medical professionals and manufacturers time to prepare for the pandemic. 

But, as leaders across the nation proved, the lockdowns and endless executive orders from governors have dealt a crippling blow to families and business owners across the country. For Rita, the lockdown took her life, not COVID-19. 

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"All we knew is, she was miserable,’’ Nan told the Miami Herald. “She could no longer go to her window to open the blinds and, in the last few months, she was too confused to know how to answer the phone for me to tell her to go to her window."

The care facility also canceled all communal dining for residents, meaning that Rita ate three meals a day alone in her room. Her children said by the end of her life, she was no longer able to remember how to turn the television on or off. Isolation is particularly harmful to the memory of older people, according to the AARP.

The rules in Florida have loosened slightly to allow more visitation from family and loved ones in recent weeks, but those changes were too late for Rita. The long term effects of isolation on children, adults, and elders is still being studied, with major concern raised by mental health activists.