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STATE WIDE--Some people in nursing homes and long-term care facilities in Indiana are not able to visit with the people they love and who love them. The health effects of isolation can be worse on the body than smoking or obesity.

“Social isolation over time has devastating negative consequences. It’s the health equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day,” said Lisa Marsh Ryerson, president of the AARP Foundation. “It is worse for our health than obesity. It leads to increased incidence of heart disease. It could lead to early cognitive decline.”

LISTEN: Lisa Marsh Ryerson talks about the dangers of isolation.

Some of the restrictions on visiting people at nursing homes in Indiana were relaxed before coronavirus case numbers started to go up again, with some inside socially-distanced visits allowed.

Now, some of the previous restrictions are going back in place in areas like Vanderburgh County, where more people are being infected. Outside visits will still be allowed, and are encouraged. But, workers at several care facilities tested positive.

Ryerson, who has been studying the effects of isolation for about a decade, said the pandemic has made it even more clear that older people are seriously affected by having limited or no contact with their loved ones.

“Call the nursing home. It is your right and they need to let you know what the restrictions are and more importantly the status of your loved one and to allow you to set up a time for you to talk with your loved one.”

She said that could be by phone or Zoom.

Ryerson said many elderly people who work have also had to give up those jobs, at least temporarily, also isolating them. She said you can help your elderly neighbors by reaching out.

“Now is the time when we need to reach out and know our older neighbors,” she said. “Give them a phone call. Knock on their door and then appropriately physically distance and see if they have needs. If you’re heading out to get your groceries, can you get their groceries? Do they need help picking up their prescriptions?”

She said everyone has experienced vulnerability during the pandemic and it is her hope that more people will be open to understanding the isolation that older people might face.

“It may help us really be a better neighbor and reach out to the older adults in our lives, as well.”