Anyone helping a loved one deal with health matters during the current COVID-19 pandemic certainly knows that we are in uncharted territory, at least in recent times. If your loved one is elderly, the situation is even more complicated.
I can relate. Our family moved Mom into a memory care facility in early March, on her 88th birthday. A few days later, the facility stopped inside visits. It is tough for everyone, but especially people who are experiencing cognitive issues.
The isolation for the elderly in these settings is very challenging for them, their families and their loved ones. One thing that is beyond dispute is the fact that our elderly are the very highest risk individuals during this pandemic. Somewhere between 40 percent and 50 percent of all COVID-related deaths in the U.S. have occurred in nursing homes or are somehow connected to people in those types of settings. The news can vary with opinions and statistics. Still, reality and common sense lead us to conclude that we need to be continually diligent regarding how we manage interactions with the elderly and those who have riskier medical conditions. That holds true in senior care facilities of all types.
So how do you cope? How do you help a loved one cope?
Patience and communication are essential. Most Americans have not been through something like this before, at least not in recent times. Although, if you talk with elderly people about their past, you will be surprised – even encouraged -- to hear how they might have experienced polio or other challenges earlier in their lives. Window visits, phone calls, Skyping, Zooming and other forms of meetings/conversations are not the same as a hug or a handshake, but they are helpful -- and needed. It is not the same as the human touch, but the ability to hear and to see our loved ones when using these new forms of “connection” does allow for more frequent contact than in the past.
Take the time to reach out to a friend, neighbor or someone from church using appropriate safety precautions. You probably know someone who is dealing with a family member in restricted circumstances, either at home or in a care facility. Lend that person an ear, maybe pick up their groceries or offer to help with a chore. It will brighten their day. It could free up time for them to connect with a loved one who has not had a hug in three or four months.
We will continue to read and hear more about what we would, could and should do about caring for the elderly in the future. Politics, money and emotions become entangled and complex in these situations. It is easy to ignore or have an opinion about what could or should be done -- that is, until it is your loved one you are helping. Just remember, we all might be there someday: longing for the human touch but only gazing through a window. Smile and help someone today.
The Insiders: This article is sponsored by Fairhaven Senior Services.