COVID-19 Creating Long-term Challenges for Families with Loved Ones in Long-term Care
Alzheimer’s Foundation of America Helping Families Affected by Alzheimer’s to Stay Connected
(June 8, 2020)— While states across the country are beginning to reopen after months of prolonged isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the major challenges that may continue for the near future is not being able to visit loved ones in nursing homes. Since residents of these facilities are among the most vulnerable to the coronavirus, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recommends that nursing homes not reopen to outside visitors until the last phase of its reopening guidelines.
“One of the hardest parts of the COVID-19 pandemic for families who have relatives with Alzheimer’s disease living in a care setting is not being able to see their loved ones in person,” said Jennifer Reeder, LCSW, Director of Educational and Social Services for the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA). “Many nursing homes are likely to continue limiting or prohibiting outside visitors, given how fast COVID-19 can spread and the high risks to seniors with underlying health conditions. However, there are ways families can stay connected with their loved ones from anywhere.”
AFA is offering tips to families to help stay connected until in-person visits resume:
- Connect using technology. Video chat platforms like FaceTime, Zoom or Skype allow you and your loved one to see and talk with one another from anywhere. Many care settings are helping families stay connected this way. Ask your loved one’s care setting if they can offer this type of service. Phone calls, emails and letters are also good ways to keep in touch.
- Send favorite items. A care package with your loved one’s favorite snacks, trinkets and other fun items can let them know that you are thinking of them. It can also help provide them with comfort, improve their mood and reduce stress or anxiety. Be sure to check with the care setting first to find out if any items are prohibited for health reasons.
- Have a dialogue through photographs. Some care settings are working with families to regularly send pictures of their residents to their loved ones and also inviting families to send photos in return for the residents to see. In some cases, they’ll encourage “themed” photos (i.e., wearing a funny hat) to keep things fun and engaging. This can also have the added benefit of eliciting memories.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for updates from the care setting. Keep in touch with staff and get regular updates on your loved one. If your loved one has special care needs, such as physical or occupational therapy, or needs other personal care services, like getting toenails or fingernails cut, find out how the facility is delivering those services or what alternatives are in place. Ask about what steps the care setting is taking to deliver activity programming (i.e., music, art, dance/movement, crafts, exercise) that can help keep your loved one engaged and active. Additionally, all care settings are required to have plans in place to monitor and prevent infections and safeguard the health of their residents and staff. They should be able to provide you with information about these procedures, if asked.
AFA’s Helpline, staffed entirely by licensed social workers, is available seven days a week to answer questions or provide additional information and support. The Helpline can be reached by:
- Calling 866-232-8484
- Visiting www.alzfdn.org and clicking on the chat icon in the lower, right-hand corner of the home page
- Sending a text message to 646-586-5283
The web chat and text message features are translatable for more than 90 different languages.