Many countries in the continent are recording more cases now than the spring months – partly because of better detection – with most of these new cases belonging to the older cohort. Thus, authorities advise the elderly to protect themselves against the coronavirus by limiting social interactions, avoiding crowds and wearing face masks to prepare for winter.
Family members have been advised to reduce contact with older relatives. However, countries in Southern Europe such as Italy and Spain usually have multigenerational households – with grandparents often helping out in childcare duties. Frequent contact between younger and older family members is unavoidable in such cases.
Sixty-year old Carmen Pallarolas and her husband from the town of Argentona in northeast Spain blamed their 26-year-old son who lives with them when they tested positive for the coronavirus in August. Their son, who led an active social life, also tested positive.
“Generally, young people move around more than us older people do, and they are less careful,” she said. Pallarolas suffered mild COVID-19 symptoms such as a fever and a cough, and has recovered since.
Seventy-three-year-old retiree Manuel Jimenez, who lives near Barcelona, still picks up his grandson from school most days. He said: “His parents are working and can’t make it on time. If I don’t pick him up, who will?” Jimenez avoids crowded places and runs errands early in the morning when there are fewer people around to lower his risk of being infected by the coronavirus.
Vittoria Rosso first thought of her 87-year-old grandmother, who lives in the same building as her in the northern Italian city of Turin, after a friend she recently met tested positive for the coronavirus. “I could be infected and I could have infected her,” said the 29-year-old psychologist now self-isolating at home.
Rosso sanitizes her hands and wears a face mask when seeing her grandmother, but she worries that these aren’t enough.
Multi-generational households are not the only ones fearing COVID-19. Nursing homes in Europe are also doing their best to protect their elderly residents by isolating them – at the cost of residents’ psychological well-being. (Related: Long coronavirus lockdowns causing people’s mental health to rapidly DETERIORATE.)
Silvio Ferrato, the owner of a nursing home in the small village of Sanfront in northern Italy, acknowledged the need to be careful when it comes to their residents. “But seeing our guests try to caress their relatives through Plexiglas barriers or tablet devices is heart-breaking,” he said. Even Ferrato’s 93-year-old mother would prefer to stay home than move to the “prison-like” facility.
Nursing home residents themselves are perplexed as to why they can't spend more time with their loved ones. Nilda Nari was so upset when her son did not hug her when their 15-minute meeting ended. Nari, who is in her late 80s, sat without moving or saying a word for several minutes after her son left.
Another resident, 85-year-old Teresa Gerbaudo, lost her once-healthy appetite after moving into Ferrato's nursing home over the summer. She is being fed intravenously on account of her minimal food consumption and is in and out of the hospital. Gerbaudo's daughter Franca Buffa expressed worry about her mother giving up on life, saying that old people “are letting themselves go, as if they don't want to fight anymore.”
The coronavirus’ toll on mental health is not just limited to Italy. In April, retired police chief James Connelly Webster committed suicide in April while in self-isolation after he exhibited COVID-19 symptoms. The 58-year-old from Crackington Haven, England became “paranoid and neurotic” during the period leading to his suicide as a result of prolonged quarantine.
Soon after Webster’s death, Dennis Ward of Birmingham, England took his own life following a long period of self-isolation. James Parnaby described his grandfather Ward as “the life and soul at family parties” and encouraged people to check up on their “parents, grandparents, friends or anyone vulnerable … if they are OK and are coping.”
Visit Pandemic.news to find out the effects of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic on people’s physical and mental health.