Teresa Palmer sitting in backyard

Dying of loneliness: How COVID-19 is killing dementia patients

Teresa Palmer is sitting on the back porch of her home in San Francisco when the mobile phone in her hand starts to buzz.

A kind, raspy voice inquires from the other end of the line: “Did I wake you?” If the question surprises Palmer, she does not show it. Her reply is plain and swift. “No,” she says: It is past one in the afternoon. She has been awake for hours.

Her mother, Berenice Palmer, is 103 years old. She lives at the San Francisco Campus for Jewish Living, a 15-minute drive south from the cheery blue house where Teresa, 68, and her husband live.

But since March, Teresa has not been able to see Berenice, except for the occasional doctor’s visit, plus that one time Berenice fell and had to get stitches at the emergency room. Teresa was given permission to drive her mother back to the nursing home.

Otherwise, all visitation stopped. Until September, even outdoor visits and window visits – where a patient looks through a window to see a loved one outside – were barred under measures the San Francisco Department of Public Health implemented to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

It was a devastating development for dementia patients like Berenice, for whom routine interaction and careful observation are key.

Find out why activists and medical professionals fear the social isolation used to control the spread of COVID-19 will result in disastrous outcomes for dementia patients, in this article for Al Jazeera English.

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