It happened every year during the holiday season. My classmates and I would dress up in our coats, hats, and gloves, with gifts in hand. We would walk down the street to the nearby nursing home. When we arrived, we were put into a room with residents and staff members.
In that room, we sang songs and handed out our gifts. Mainly, we had bananas, lotion, and socks. It was somewhat terrifying at first, to see people who were in various states of alertness. Some residents were either happy, silent, or appeared angry.
How Are We Now?
It’s been a few years since I went with my classmates to visit that nursing home. In the time since then, I have had two close family members live out their remaining years in a long-term care community. I have also worked with older adults in all phases of activity and health levels.
In that time, I have come to believe and know that all older adults are not the same. As a matter of fact, we become less alike as we age, due to life experiences. We have different strengths, abilities, and interests.
The COVID-19 Policies and Effects
The effects of COVID-19 go beyond social distancing and social isolation. In the policies and procedures to prevent COVID-19 from spreading, nursing home residents have been quarantined. Isolating older adults in long term care may keep them protected, but not necessarily healthier. It may be seen as needing to keep older adults isolated and hidden away.
Without having a realistic perspective on aging, it might seem perfectly fine to isolate older adults, with the same treatment for all. The alternative of not implementing safety measures likely seems worse. We should work on remembering and honoring older adults, having a realistic view of their needs, and addressing those needs. Safety should not come at the expense of mental health.
Giving the Gift of Caring
Long term care workers have been working to care for their residents. They have been implementing the COVID-19 protection procedures and policies. They continue to do their best despite seeing the effects. Even when I was visiting residents as part of a class project years ago, it was obvious the direct care workers were caring and supportive. We gave them gifts but the workers helped add life to their days. The workers in long term care these days continue to do that. Let us continue to support both long term care residents and direct care workers as we endure this COVID-19 pandemic.
Kathy Dreyer, Ph.D., is an Advisor at AGE-u-cate® Training Institute, which develops and delivers innovative research-based aging and dementia training programs such as Dementia Live® and Compassionate Touch®, for professional and family caregivers; firstname.lastname@example.org