Bill told his daughter, “I thought it was COVID and no one can go outside! Every time I look out my window cars go by non-stop!” She explained that people are allowed outdoors but with certain precautionary measures, but Bill has dementia and is in an Assisted Living facility. He cannot understand why “the rest of the world” is able to do things, and he can’t.
Bill lives in a Community of Care along side Independent & Assisted Living residents with the choice to move to Complex Care when the need arises. His biggest complaint when speaking to family is “I’m lonely – so lonely I just want the end to come”. His hearing is poor, and it’s difficult for him to make conversations with residents. The only real communal times are meals, and when meals are over everyone goes back to their rooms.
Bill used to walk to the grocery store for his specialty food items such as candy and ice-cream. He also used his scooter, but due to snow he did not go out much last winter. When COVID hit in March, they were locked down at his Assisted Living facility, and he could not use his scooter. His health, and cognitive function has slipped to the extent that it is dangerous for Bill to ride his scooter in the community so with his physician’s recommendation, it was sold.
In six months Bill experienced so many changes in his life. He moved from his home to Assisted Living, lost his wife to cancer, lost his driver’s licence, sold his car, experienced the affects of COVID, and had his scooter sold. So much change in such a short time impacts the older senior’s memory, mood and function.
Our elders, began life with the Great Depression and a World War. One senior remarked “this is just like war – it’s just a different kind”. The same isolation and quarantine protection measures are in place that our seniors can relate to from their youth.
Gladys and Arthur live in Assisted Living. They are a special couple as one supports the other. Arthur has a great mind and a strong body, but Gladys’ memory is failing her. As a team they manage well. They told their companion/caregiver “we went out to our old property last week to see it for one more time before it sells”. When the caregiver asked how they managed to slip by the front desk Arthur responded, “We know a special side door to leave from and the taxi picks us up and drops us off there”. This is one couple that knew how to work the rules. They enjoyed a summer of freedom slipping in and out of their residence and travelling on outings with a companion.
Shirley called to ask if there was someone that could play games with her mom. She is 98, and her siblings lived to be 103, and 104. Shirley says her mother has been isolated for 6 months and is becoming despondent and depressed. “The isolation is killing her”, as Shirley bursts into tears.
Ruth lived in Independent living residence, but was room bound due to a fall. Her meals were served up to her suite. She had a companion 3x per week, to visit and go for a walk. Unfortunately, those visits were dropped when COVID started in March. The caregiver calls Ruth instead and they visit by phone. On one of her visits Ruth said she was so lonely. When asked how she could be lonely living in the building, she said even though everyone knows she’s had a fall, they don’t stop to knock and check in to see how she is doing.
Seniors living in their own homes that are no longer driving often find they are very isolated. However here is a wonderful example of a 103 year old living on the Gulf Islands in his own home. Receiving visits 3 times daily from Home & Community Care, the neighbours and friends have provided emotional, physical, and home supports for Ben for the past 13 years. They cleaned his home, cut his grass, brought him his baking and meals. This summer he passed away, and throughout COVID he was cared for and attended to in a most loving manner.
Further complicating matters, families have agonized over not being able to visit their parent or spouse at hospital as visits have been very restricted.
Heading into fall and winter and further anticipated restrictions, we spoke with our team about strategies to deal with and prevent feelings of isolation. How do we meet the needs of the isolated senior? How can the residences offer up more to do to engage all seniors?
We’d like to share these thoughts with you.
- Virtual Field Trips – movies, books, magazines of animals or countries
- Set Up a Seating Area Outside – visit from afar
- Keep Entertainers Outdoors – entertain from the patio
- Livestream Entertainers – in the common room of the facility
- Make Pen Pals
- Have children do drawings for seniors
- Set up dedicated facetime, zoom or Alexa for your parent on iPad/computer or iPhone
- Hire a regular caregiver to make telephone visits with your parent
- Have the family responsible for regular daily calls so there are numerous touch points throughout the day
Isolation is not only affecting our seniors, as families are burdened with guilt over not being able to fly to see aging parents, and grandparents are bereft at not being able to hold their little ones. Be kind to yourself and to others, and put into place coping strategies to help you through these difficult times.