For many of our families who have loved ones in a nursing home or assisted living community, the restricted access to their loved ones has proven to be trying, and sometimes fatal. Family interaction has proven to be a source of support and comfort for many of our clients. It is well founded that loneliness, especially in seniors, can result in cognitive and physical decline.
While all of us recognize that there needs to be a protocol in place to protect our seniors, the unfortunate reality of the situation is that no matter what that protocol is it will inevitably harm our seniors in a different way. Currently, most of our Michigan Nursing Homes and Senior Living Communities have a no visitation policy in place. The natural result of a no visitation policy is isolation. Isolation leads to higher risks of heart disease, anxiety, depression and cognitive decline.
The reality of our practice is that the people we serve are the most vulnerable to this virus. Sadly, a number of our clients have lost their lives to COVID-19 over these past 5 months. This pandemic has affected our clients in other ways as well. A few months back, we received a phone call from a client’s daughter, who was clearly fighting back tears. She had called to inform us of her mother’s passing. Her faint statement was simply, “my mom died of a broken heart”. We have had other clients who had to delay procedures and treatments such as chemotherapy. Others who relied on their children to come assist them in eating to maintain their nourishment who’ve had to adjust their eating routines, which can be especially difficult for someone with cognitive impairment. We’ve also had several clients who contracted COVID while in their respective residence and had to be moved to another facility for treatment. We’ve even had clients refuse to go to the hospital when they discovered medical issues, for fear they would contract COVID-19.
This is not an indictment of our senior communities or hospitals and the brave people who work in these facilities. We know everyone that works at Nursing Homes and Assisted Living Communities are doing the absolute best they can, putting themselves at risk, to care for our seniors. Most of the men and women who work in these senior communities are wonderful caregivers. Isolation is simply a sad reality of this pandemic. There is just no substitute for family interaction, recognition and relationship.
When this pandemic finally floats away into our distant past, the lasting effects of it will still be felt. Michiganders will still remember that they were not able to spend time with their loved ones in the twilight of their lives. Many of us will suffer from the anxiety of not being able to say a proper good-bye. Still others could suffer with physical ailments brought on both by the virus and by the inability to take care of other medical needs.
For those of you that still have visitation restrictions placed on your families, our hearts ache for you. Be sure to stay vigilant. The restrictions and guidelines change quickly so it is important to stay up to date. For a list of the current executive orders in place in Michigan, please visit https://www.michigan.gov/whitmer/0,9309,7-387-90499_90705---,00.html. And don’t be afraid to bug your loved one’s facility about what they are and are not allowing with regard to visitation and communication. There is now at least one Governor’s order that can assist you in visitation of a critically ill or hospice patient. Many of our communities are coming around to allowing visitations. When placing a loved one, make sure that you know what the community policy is prior to making a decision.