We protected my grandmother and my elders from COVID-19, but at what cost?

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This column is an opinion of Jordan Grimsley, who studies social work at St. Thomas University in New Brunswick. For more information on Section Opinion de CBC, please consult the FAQ.In recent weeks, many people have asked what we should do with long-term care facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The facilities are closed to the public to ensure residents can isolate themselves and practice physical distance. While this approach has undoubtedly protected the elderly, it has its own costs.

My grandmother, Fern, currently resides in a long-term care facility in rural eastern Ontario. She lives with Alzheimer’s disease and often does not remember me during my visit. It breaks my heart to know that she doesn’t recognize her grandson. As sad as my visit to my grandmother may be, there is always a time when everything is fine.

It happens when we find time to sing her favorite songs, tell her favorite jokes (she likes the debauchery kind of stuff, so I won’t repeat them), and when we hold her hand and enjoy each other’s company. She may not recognize her family, but these visits are among her most peaceful times.

Unfortunately, my grandmother has not had peaceful time for months. She did not hold the hands of her grandchildren or had her daughter’s hair brushed from her face. My grandmother’s home was not affected by COVID-19. However, to say that it has not been affected by the pandemic would be seriously misleading. COVID-19 has robbed my grandmother of the most precious thing in this world – spending time with family and loved ones.

The impact has been devastating. In a few months, she became withdrawn and not very communicative, silencing these songs that we love so much.

My mother has visited my grandmother twice since the closure of COVID-19. Each time, their contact was limited by a plexiglass barrier, and each time, my grandmother appeared more anxious than the previous one.

She is scared and alone in a world of surgical masks and strangers.

Patricia Grinsteed, a 91-year-old woman who is a COVID-19 survivor, talks with her daughter through a glass barrier at the Lynn Valley Care Center in North Vancouver, British Columbia. This is where the first death in Canada from COVID-19 was recorded. (Ben Nelms / CBC)

Family and loved ones are not just visitors. They often provide essential services long-term care staff are unable to provide due to time constraints and lack of resources. They are often the primary advocates and advocates for residents’ rights and are irreplaceable sources of love, support, care and social interaction. My grandmother was deprived of these sources of well-being, and she is not alone in this regard.

Sadly, we will probably never know how many seniors in long-term care homes who died during the pandemic did so in isolation, alone and without families, with no one to hold their hands. By removing families from these facilities, the quality of life for many seniors is severely compromised. We have protected my grandmother and many other residents of long-term care homes from COVID-19, but at what cost?

We are here because many long term care facilities aim to minimize risk. How can we prevent disease from entering, how can we avoid accidents, and how can we avoid lawsuits? While this is undoubtedly important, I fear that it misses another important point: how do we make sure that the life of the elderly is one that they believe is worthwhile. to be lived?

To pursue this other goal, I believe we need to ask questions of the residents themselves and their families: what are their needs, wants and aspirations? What risks are they willing to take to live their best life?

I don’t want to generalize this experience to all seniors in long-term care. I also don’t mean to suggest that we should just give up preventing the spread of disease or that we should take a laissez-faire approach to providing care. I truly believe that every precaution should be taken to maximize the well-being and safety of seniors in long-term care homes.

However, I want to challenge each of us to reinvent what long-term care could look like. It is urgent that we reconsider our focus on risk in long-term care at the expense of love and care. Perhaps then we could begin the process of humanizing these facilities.

Grimsley’s grandmother, left, loved debauchery jokes, he said. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, which isolated her from her family, she became withdrawn and uncommunicative. (Jordan Grimsley)


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