According to the New York Times (April 17, 2020), about a fifth of U.S. virus deaths are linked to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. That’s about 7,000 people.
It’s an extremely difficult time for families who have a loved one in a care facility. You’re not able to visit, and you and your loved one might be missing the physical touch that we as humans crave. You might be too overwhelmed with caring for others at home to make the drive to the care facility, only to be allowed to peer through a window and touch hands separated by glass.
Two of my friends recently lost a parent who was in a nursing facility. Their parents didn’t die from Covid-19. One died from Alzheimer’s (yes, Alzheimer’s is a fatal disease) and the other had dementia and was recovering from a broken pelvis. Neither friend was able to get to the facility in time to say good-bye, partly because of the imposed lock-down on these facilities.
You might be worried that your loved one will contract Covid-19. What should you do?
Should you move your loved one home?
- Consider why you moved your loved one to a care facility in the first place. Are you able to safely care for him/her at home?
- How is your health? Have you been sick? Do you have a chronic condition that prevents you from taking on added stress?
- Are you overwhelmed caring for children who are doing online schooling?
- Are you working from home?
- Is your loved one mobile? Continent? Can you bathe and dress him/her? Do they need a two-person transfer?
- Can you hire in-home care? This option comes with the risk of having an outsider who has possibly been exposed to Covid-19 come into your home.
- A person with dementia might have compounded anxiety during the pandemic. Anxiety increases when a person with dementia has their routine disrupted. The individual may not be able to understand what is going on, but pick up on the stress of those around him/her. Would you have the patience and time to devote to caring for such an individual?
- Be honest with yourself, and consider your own health, psychology and emotional well-being.
If moving your loved one is out of the questions, consider these tips from The Alzheimer’s Association.
If your loved one is in a care facility:
By now, almost all care facilities are not allowing visitors through the door.
- Check with the facility regarding their procedures for managing COVID-19 risk. Ensure they have your emergency contact information and the information of another family member or friend as a backup.
- Do not visit your family member if you have any signs or symptoms of illness.
- Depending on the situation in your local area, facilities may limit or not allow visitors. This is to protect the residents but it can be difficult if you are unable to see your family member.
- If visitation is not allowed, ask the facility how you can have contact with your family member. Options include telephone calls, video chats or even emails to check in.
- If your family member is unable to engage in calls or video chats, ask the facility how you can keep in touch with facility staff in order to get updates.
What if the care facility has or had Covid-19 incidences?
- Ask the facility about their quarantine procedures. What is your level of confidence that CDC guidelines are being followed?
- How many people in the facility have been impacted by COVID-19? Are those affected staff, residents or both?
- Is your family member able to follow social distancing procedures (with or without help)?
- In some cases, the person may not be able to walk or move about on their own. This could help maintain social distancing.
- Does the facility have and use personal protective equipment?
- How many staff members interact with your family member on a regular basis? Is the facility able to limit the number of staff who work with your family member?
- Is the facility adequately staffed to provide the level of care your family member requires?
The Centers for Disease Control has issued these guidelines for nursing home visitation in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak:
Limiting Visitation: For facilities that are in counties, or counties adjacent to other counties where a COVID-19 case has occurred, we recommend limiting visitation (except in certain situations as indicated above). For example, a daughter who visits her mother every Monday, would cease these visits, and limit her visits to only those situations when her mom has a significant issue. Also, during the visit, the daughter would limit her contact with her mother and only meet with her in her room or a place the facility has specifically dedicated for visits.
Facilities should actively screen and restrict visitation by those who meet the following criteria: 1. Signs or symptoms of a respiratory infection, such as fever, cough, shortness of breath, or sore throat. 2. In the last 14 days, has had contact with someone with a confirmed diagnosis of COVID19, or under investigation for COVID-19, or are ill with respiratory illness. 3. International travel within the last 14 days to countries with sustained community transmission. 4. Residing in a community where community-based spread of COVID-19 is occurring.
Be kind to yourself, and try not to feel guilty about not being able to visit your loved one. Caregiver guilt is complicated, but you are probably doing the best that you can.
This pandemic lock-down is unprecedented. Hopefully, the restrictions will lift soon and you’ll be able to be with your loved one again. Until then, take extra good care of yourself.
Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”—Winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in Self-Help—in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Boulder Book Store, Tattered Cover Book Store, Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.