PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — We know older people are the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

But it’s not just the disease itself. It’s also the loneliness brought on by the isolation.

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Jeff Weinberg, a licensed nursing home administrator and patient advocate in Pittsburgh, calls loneliness a second epidemic.

“We have totally forgotten what this does to people emotionally, with depression and loneliness and how it affects them and their families,” Weinberg says.

Weinberg’s own mother-in-law died in a nursing home just last month after the pandemic forced her into isolation.

“When March 13 hit, which was Friday the 13th, that was the last day my wife saw her mother. She kissed her goodbye and when she left, she was told she can no longer visit,” Weinberg said.

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Most people in assisted living have been isolated, not only from visitors but even from each other — no meals or activities together.

The only interaction is with caregivers who are practically unrecognizable in their masks and gowns. Weinberg says it’s close to solitary confinement.

A study from Brigham Young University shows loneliness is associated with an increased risk of early death by 26 percent, social isolation by 29 percent and living alone by 32 percent.

Overall, this means loneliness can be as bad for your health as obesity.

“I think people just decide to give up. And then, as a result of that, they don’t have the motivation to look forward to the next day,” Weinberg says.

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He suggests assisted living facilities make an extra effort to help patients visit with families from a safe distance in outside areas because the mental health of patients can be as important as physical health.

Kristine Sorensen