Investigating the impacts of social isolation on long-term care residents’ cognition, function and mood during the COVID‑19 pandemic
Residents of long-term care homes in Canada have been the most hard-hit by the COVID‑19 pandemic and have experienced significantly higher numbers of cases and deaths compared to the general population. Since the beginning of this pandemic, long-term care homes in Ontario have been operating under varying degrees of lockdown or restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19. These public health restrictions have put drastic limitations on residents’ social interactions, including stopping family members, volunteers and non-essential personnel from entering homes, reducing or cancelling social activities within the homes, restricting communal dining, and at times isolating residents in their rooms for days to weeks. While these efforts have been aimed at protecting residents’ health, there are growing concerns that they have had consequences on resident health and well-being by reducing residents’ social engagement and increasing their social isolation. In this project, we will evaluate the wider impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic on the cognition, function, and mood of long-term care residents in Ontario. We will describe the social isolation experienced by long-term care residents throughout the first year of the COVID‑19 pandemic, including isolation related to pandemic-related public health restrictions (e.g., lockdowns and visitor policies) and infections. We will compare changes in cognition, function, and mood in long-term care residents before and during the COVID‑19 pandemic. Finally, we will evaluate how social isolation, along with other resident, home, and system characteristics were associated with patterns of decline in cognition, function and mood. Our overarching goal is to enable better pandemic planning and management in long-term care settings while prioritizing the overall health and well-being of residents.