Post-Covid Caregiving Questions Answered by Senior Living Professionals
Post-Covid Caregiving Questions Answered by Senior Living Professionals
It was a little over a year ago now that we all hunkered down in quarantine wondering when we would be free to do the things we want to do and see the people we want to see without worry. This period of time has been exponentially more stressful for family caregivers with loved ones in long-term care facilities not knowing when they would be allowed to see their loved one again and how their life was behind closed doors.
Now, a little more than a year later, we're all on the cusp "normalcy," yet there are a lot of hesitations about next steps. We've been left with vague answers to questions about when and how to re-introduce ourselves and our loved ones back into a more normal routine. And, with long-term care residents, we have questions about when it's safe to see them or give them a hug again.
We enlisted the help of Inan Linton, Executive Director of Belmont Village Sabre Springs, to help us answer these questions and more.
Senior living communities are beginning to allow in-person visitation again in many states. What are some things caregivers should be aware of before visiting their loved one?
We are so grateful to have the gift of immunity. With all of our residents and team members fully vaccinated, we are able to bring new meaning to the words “in-person!” Our residents have been thrilled to welcome their loved ones back into the community. Fully vaccinated guests can once again break bread with residents in our dining room or join their loved one for a quiet in-apartment chat. What a difference a year makes.
How are those visits going in your community (or communities)? What are you seeing?
With our high rate of community immunity, we have been fortunate to welcome visitors inside the building for several months. We have seen countless long-awaited and loving embraces between residents and visitors, and it is truly heartwarming.
Are there any specific visits or ‘reunions’ between residents and families or friends that you’ve seen that have stuck with you?
There are a number of sons and daughters who would visit their parents a few times a week prior to the pandemic. Being physically separated for a year was a test of fortitude. Although they dearly missed seeing their loved ones in person, Zoom calls, FaceTime, and outside visits kept them going and reassured.
One special reunion in particular stands out. When the reunion day finally came, both mom and daughter were fully vaccinated. When they could finally hold each other in their arms, the tears flowed! The pure JOY brought by this event, and many like it, have been felt throughout our community as families have come back together again, in person. That particular reunion was captured on video, which has since gone viral among our families and team members!
What are some specific concerns family caregivers should keep in mind when visiting a loved one who is living with dementia, after such a long time away?
Time elapsed is not as much of a factor in the lives of those living with dementia. Having short-term memory loss means that residents don’t usually recall how much time has passed between visits. Throughout this past year, our staff of caregivers, enrichment leader, and our Memory Program Director have spent their time engaging residents with their loved ones through Zoom chats, FaceTime, and outdoor visits. Living in San Diego gives us fine weather that provides many wonderful opportunities to go outside, which we have taken advantage of fully as of late and soaked up plenty of Vitamin D.
So to answer your question, our families are seeing each other face-to-face with huge hugs and picking up right where they left off.
What advice can you share for family members visiting a loved one who is living with dementia for the first time post-lockdown?
When reuniting with arms full of flowers, a favorite keepsake, or a box of See’s Candy, it is like coming back from “vacation.” With those who experience memory loss, it’s important to focus on the “now.” We talk about “how great it is to see you mom, you look beautiful! Dad, you are handsome as ever, I love you so much!”
Our residents with memory loss do not feel that they have been in “lockdown.” Our team members have worked tirelessly to maintain engagement. So there’s no need for a family member to feel guilt about being away for so long. Enjoy the moment, and many more to come.
How are you helping set resident family members up for success with these visits?
As I mentioned, we were blessed with the kind of weather that allowed for outdoor visits intermittently throughout the year. We have a very active resident council which helped us set and enforce the rules of engagement and also helped in our drive to get everyone vaccinated. Family members have been respectful and are especially appreciative of our extraordinary team members. We, in turn, are thrilled to see our family members proudly sharing their vaccine cards at the front door.
What can a family member do if their loved one who is living with dementia becomes anxious or overwhelmed during the visit?
If may be best to keep the first visit or visits short and simple - 15 to 30 minutes. If a resident becomes overwhelmed by the emotional experience of the visit and becomes anxious, it’s OK to go ahead and wrap it up knowing that you will be back soon. I understand that may be hard to do after such a long length of time, but we don’t want to create a negative experience. Best suggestion is to take it slowly and keep a watchful eye on the resident’s reaction and demeanor. Do not take it personally if they get tired or anxious after 15 minutes, this is an adjustment for them too. When visiting, your excitement to see them may cause emotions to run high. Try to dial it down a little, take a deep breath, and proceed more slowly. If you are anxious, then they may sense it and become anxious as well.
Do you have any further advice for family caregivers at this time?
What’s top of mind for me is being thankful. We’ve all learned so much and there is a renewed bond of respect and support for one another. I have been very impressed by the resilience I’ve seen in our residents, the devotion of our families, and the dedication of our team members.
The pandemic has also reinforced some things that we as care providers already knew about the challenges and risks associated with isolation, especially in the case of our seniors. Physical and mental decline have occurred at a more rapid pace for those living for long periods of time in isolation at home than for those who are surrounded by peers and have daily interactions. We’re also hearing from families now about the stress and strain of being the sole or primary caregiver during this prolonged period of disruption and limitations. Though we were all affected, one of the things that helped our residents and staff make it through was the support from having a team and a community behind them, and it gave our families peace of mind as well.
Now is a good time to assess your experience and your situation to determine what is truly best for your elderly loved one and your family to thrive. There are so many choices available within community living to provide the support, socialization, and care needed for your loved one and the peace of mind and security that your family needs as well.
For more on what you need to know about caregiving in 2021, read Post-Covid Caregiving Questions Answered by Medical Professionals
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