Fear is a dangerous thing: A report by the US National Council on Aging (NCOA) called ‘COVID-Driven Isolation Can Be Dangerous for Older Adults’ published in March 2021 found that the effects of social isolation among older adults may be more pronounced and have more dire consequences than among people of other ages.
Kathleen Zuke, senior program manager at the Centre for Healthy Aging of the NCOA, pointed out that the viral outbreak has exacerbated social isolation and loneliness, as well as other issues that older adults commonly face, including economic insecurity and difficulty accessing health care services.
Ms Zuke warned that being socially unconnected significantly increases risk. Moreover, social isolation situations, such as lockdowns and the quarantine periods mandated by health authorities in 2020 and 2021, have a larger impact on mortality than other factors that currently receive substantial public health attention such as obesity, physical inactivity and air pollution.
“Before the pandemic, individuals in Long Term Care (LTC) facilities could benefit from the social connections and mental stimulation provided by visiting friends and family,” Kathleen Zuke said. “Now, while staff members can try to provide interactions, they also have other tasks they need to focus on, making it impossible for them to be the sole source of interaction.”
The effects of COVID isolation may be particularly acute in LTC facilities, as outlined in an American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) report that suggests feelings of loneliness, abandonment, despair and fear among residents – and their toll on physical and neurological health – are pushing mortality rates higher.
In an article published in the Times of Malta recently in January 2022 called ‘Residents in care homes ‘scared and anxious’ as quarantine takes its toll’ Fiona Galea Debono, Pink Magazine editor, also warned that elderly residents in care homes are being made to quarantine in their rooms for weeks even if not infected, leading relatives to question the necessity of this health measure and express concern about its impact on their mental health.
in November 2017 the American Journal of Managed Care published a report under the title ‘The Effects of Chronic Fear on a Person’s Health’.
The report explained that fear arises when sensory systems in the brain have determined that an external stimulus poses a threat. The biological recognition of a threat triggers a general increase in brain arousal and can result in altered threat processing: fear and anxiety disorders.
The report explains that there are 3 predictable stages the body uses to respond to stress produced by fear called the general adaptation syndrome. The adaptation process goes through the awareness of the danger that stimulates the fight or flight mechanism releasing the stress hormones. When the danger recedes homeostasis sets in, which are the body processes to restore dynamic balance. Should the fear be sustained over longer periods of time, such as, for example, in the ongoing health emergency, “The body’s ability to resist is lost because its adaptation energy supply is exhausted. This is often referred to as overload, burnout, adrenal fatigue, maladaptation, or dysfunction”. This is chronic fear.
Dr Mary Moller outlined the potential consequences of chronic fear on overall, physical, emotional, environmental, and spiritual health.
Potential effects of chronic fear are the dysfunction, disruption and alterations in the immune system, endocrine system, autonomic nervous system, sleep/wake cycle and eating disorders. Headaches turning into migraines, muscle aches turning into fibromyalgia, body aches turning into chronic pain, and difficulty breathing turning into asthma have also been noted when chronic fear arises.
The dissociation from self, unable to have loving feelings, learned helplessness, phobic anxiety, mood swings and obsessive-compulsive thoughts are all potential emotional health effects of long term fear events.
Living with fear-generating situations causes uncertainty and vice versa. In extreme cases this can cause persons to be afraid to leave their home or quarters because of paranoia. Sustained fear has been associated with confusion and despair related to perceived loss of spirituality.
Lastly, Dr Moller explained that fear also affects specific chemical states and that “chemical alterations can distort perception of sensory information thus distorting memory and recall”.
Fear has been used by less scrupulous governments to weaken and control people.
Fear is a dangerous thing. Be free and fearless.
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This article was published in the Senior Times of The Times of Malta on the 23rd April 2022