In the wake of the crisis at the Kirkland, Washington nursing home that is the site of the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, many senior living facilities are enacting precautions to decrease the risk of a similar outbreak. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has also issued guidance for, “Infection Prevention and Control for Patients with Suspected or Confirmed COVID-19 in Nursing Homes,” citing the, “congregate nature and residents served (e.g., older adults often with underlying chronic medical conditions).”
Every day we hear of another nursing home in lockdown or assisted living facility with a restricted visitation policy. These precautions make sense given what we know and still do not know about the spread of the coronavirus. At the same time, they can be incredibly unsettling and stressful for the adult daughters and sons who serve as primary caregivers to their parents who live in these facilities. For those of us who know the joy our parents see when we walk into their rooms -perhaps their only visitor all week, who understand what a source of connection and calm we are for our parents as they age, and who feel the quick sense of fear whenever we knock on their door or call their rooms (will this be the time they are not okay?), being cut off from them, and them from us, is unnerving, and sad.
So what can you do if your parent’s nursing home or assisted living facility restricts visitors due to the coronavirus?
1. If your parents can operate their phones, call. Check in with them more than you might have in the past. Use the call to listen to their concerns and alleviate your own. If you hear anything disconcerting – that they haven’t eaten or that they need assistance – reach out to the facility staff.
2. Consider shipping a Grandpad or other tablet to your parent so you can connect “face to face.” If you do this, make sure your parent will be able to set up the device or that staff member will be able to assist.
3. If, due to hearing or sight loss, aphasia, or cognitive decline, your parent cannot operate a phone, ask the facility staff what plans they are putting in place for connecting residents to families. If they don’t have a plan, request that they help your parent with a regularly scheduled call- understanding, of course, that the staff is operating under unique and stressful conditions, and may be short-staffed.
4. Ask the staff if they are facilitating Skype calls or Facetime sessions between residents and family members. If they are not, ask them if they can.
5. Write to your parent. Remember letters? Send your parent a card or a note to let them know they are not forgotten.
Do keep in mind that staff at these facilities are operating under extraordinary circumstances and that they may be leaving their own families behind to care for yours. It is okay to ask for help connecting with your parent and to ask for updates on their well-being, but do keep in mind the many competing priorities they are balancing – and tending to ill patients is of course the most critical.
And finally, take measures to manage your stress levels during this time. Acknowledge and honor the sadness and maybe even grief you feel, not being able to see your parent. Seek support from others in your situation. Working Daughter has an active private Facebook support group for family caregivers. You can join here. Download a meditation app (we like Insight Timer), do yoga, take walks, practice gratitude. Control what you can control and accept the (many) things in life that you cannot.
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