For nine months, we’ve been under COVID-19’s siege. People residing in care communities are still confined to their rooms, cared for by overwhelmed team members shielded in protective gear and with no outside visitors.
Most certainly, this is devastating blow to any sense of well-being. Now we’re looking ahead to what changes 2021 may have in store. We may finally see a glimmer of hope as we anticipate our collective recovery from COVID.
Before looking forward, let’s glance at the toll on those the precautions keep safe. We’ve all seen first-hand or heard reports of social isolation and loneliness.
As humans, we all have a deep-rooted need for connection with others. We connect through voice, facial expression, body language, touch. Cut off from this bond, anxiety, depression, futility, decreased function, falls, and worsening dementia may set in. Some frail elders stop eating and wither, losing their desire to live.
Of course, every person is unique. Some are naturally resilient and able to better roll with the changes and find meaning in reading, music, and computer or phone calls.
However, others don’t have the reserves to carry them through, as we see in elders with advanced dementia or other conditions, placing them more at risk for decline.
Our hats are off to all of you working so hard to try to create a connection. Arranging window or porch visits with families, distanced communal activities, video chats, and more.
Our Way Forward
Although we haven’t turned the corner yet to see the end of COVID, now is the time for conversations about how to open the doors again and rebuild lost human connections.
Going straight from “lockdown” to the “old way” probably isn’t an option. Creativity and flexibility is needed well into 2021.
Perhaps the basics is a good starting point. The senses offer a way to reach through the fog of prolonged isolation.
Compassionate Touch is a universal language of the heart that will help fill the void for elders, families, and the care team alike. Even now, a caring touch on the shoulder or a few kind words will help.
Physical closeness without the barrier of a window will make for better hearing and verbal understanding. And one day ahead, when protective equipment isn’t standard garb, facial expressions will be seen again.
Some states created an “essential caregiver” designation for family members, allowing them to help with care and provide companionship for loved ones. This is a good step forward.
Regardless of how things unfold in your community, let’s keep the conversation going about how we will navigate the next phase—collective recovery.
These two links have powerful videos about the impact of isolation on elders, families, and care staff.
This Article was written by Ann Catlin, OTR, LMT, founder of Compassionate Touch, a program offered by AGE-u-cate Training Institute.