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  • Writer's pictureKamryn Casey

Life in the Nursing Home After COVID: Helping to Make It Better Than Before!

Author: Joan Devine

In October 2020, Altarum, a nonprofit organization that works with federal and state health agencies and foundations to improve health outcomes of Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, published a report “Experiences of Nursing Home Residents During the Pandemic”. The report is based on a survey of over 300 long-term care residents and was designed to gain insight into how the COVID-19 restrictions had impacted their lives.

Most of us will recall that in March of 2020, Nursing Homes and Assisted Living Communities had, based on regulatory mandates, locked their doors to the outside world, and were required to isolate residents in their rooms. Loneliness, helplessness, and boredom, identified by Dr. Bill Thomas over 25 years ago as the 3 plagues that were killing Elders in Nursing Homes, were more evident than ever before. This was not to be unexpected based on what was learned through Altarum’s survey. Visits from friends and family, opportunities to attend outside community events, the ability to enjoy time outside, and time spent dining with others were significantly down. For the majority of residents, they were not happening at all. Definitely expected feedback under the circumstances.

In the study, residents were also asked the same questions but based on the period of time before the Coronavirus restrictions. It is this data that I believe provides much food for thought and many opportunities as we look to the future, as I believe it reflects what was all too often accepted as life for residents in nursing homes under ‘normal’ times.

When asked about visitation before COVID, 56% of the residents surveyed responded that they had visitors 3 or more times a week. Seems like a good number – more than half – but what about the others? About 33% of residents had visitors only 1-2 times/week, and 10% had no visitors. In a typical week. How many people stop by your home for a visit, or how many of your friends and family do you see in a week? I suspect it’s a lot more than 3 and that most of us expect these visits will happen numerous times in the average day.

And what about getting “out of the house” (leaving the nursing home)? I know that in the winter it’s not unusual to start feeling a bit frazzled when you become housebound after a snowstorm. But for residents in Nursing Homes, Altarum’s survey found that before COVID, about 42% of residents didn’t have an opportunity to get out into the community at all in a week.

And it’s not just about getting out for a trip to the store, a visit with family, or to go shopping, it’s about something as basic as getting outside to enjoy some fresh air. Almost 50% of residents surveyed said they didn’t get outside at least 3 times a week, with 17% not getting outside at all. I remember back in the day when I was working in a nursing home, I often wondered about how many residents, especially those not living on the first floor or with access to a patio/balcony, never got outside except for the occasional trip to the doctor’s office. And even at that, their outdoor time was limited to going from the door to the van. As someone who loves to walk, hike, and ride my bike, I can only imagine how sad this would make me. How quickly would those “winter blues” become a normal state of mind?

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. (And you can read the study yourself to learn more.) Yes, we lost a lot when forced to “lockdown” and isolate in nursing homes, but now that it’s time to get back to “normal”, do we really want to get back to the “normal” that the residents shared in the survey?

Opportunities for residents to grow and engage in relationships, participate in life outside the nursing home, and enjoy the simple things in life like being able to breathe in some fresh air, were not what they should have been before COVID, so now, our goal must be more than just getting back to where we were, but getting to where we should be – where residents want to be!

And that’s where so many are making a difference by connecting with Elders through Perfect Pair. As half of a Pair, you are helping to not only make a difference in the life of your Pair, you are part of a very passionate group of people who are working to change the culture of long-term care because, as Pioneer Network Values tell us, “Relationship is the Fundamental Building Block of a Transformed Culture”.

Pairs are fostering very special relationships by being a special friend and making a connection with someone living in a nursing home or assisted living. Together Pairs are finding opportunities to learn and grow together through the power of intergenerational relationships. By getting to know some very special people, learning what brings meaning and purpose to their lives, and helping them fulfill it we all have the opportunity to enhance someone’s life – ours included!

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