The impact of the Coronavirus crisis on what was “normal” life has been so rapid and extensive that there are literally no words to describe it. Sporting events, the education of our children, socializing in public spaces, even elections – all put on hold while we deal with the frightening specter of a pandemic.
So it should not be surprising that something as predictable as restricting visitations with elders who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities would get little attention or cause much concern. After all, considering the disproportionate risk of harm that Coronavirus poses to frail elders, these restrictions are perfectly logical.
And yet, those who have loved ones in such places, those who may be there themselves, or those of us who work in the aging industry, recognize that this reasonable concession to the demands of this crisis is no small thing.
Socialization is increasingly being recognized as a key component to healthy aging. Among the elderly, social isolation is a factor in rates of depression, vulnerability to exploitation and even the ability to thrive.
It’s safe to assume that these rules have already increased the anxieties of not just the elders who live in these facilities, but the families who care for them as well. That anxiety can only get worse as our leaders suggest that the end of this crisis may be months, instead of weeks, away.
So, what can be done? Here are some ideas:
Try to Visit
Visits are restricted, but not prohibited. If you have a loved one in a facility, work with the staff to determine under what conditions, if any, you (and others) might be able to go into the facility for a visit.
Facetime to the Rescue
Schedule frequent phone calls (or Facetime calls) with the institutionalized person. Personal contact is best, but virtual contact is certainly better than nothing.
Get others Involved
Recognize that during these troubled times, everyone, including elders, needs to talk about what’s going on. Don’t let it all rest on your shoulders. If possible, engage other friends and family members to make their own phone calls or other virtual connections with your loved ones.
This crisis will end, someday. And while all of us are being challenged to get through this with our sanity, certainly it takes little empathy to understand that if you are old and living in an institutional care setting, facing the prospect of going months in these anxious times with even less human contact than you have become accustomed to, is no small thing. Those of us “on the outside” should appreciate how meaningful human contact is to those elders and do our best to help.