COVID, the Elderly, and the Holidays: Families Advised to Plan Early

COVID, the Elderly, and the Holidays: Families Advised to Plan Early

December, COVID, the Elderly, and the Holidays: Families Advised to Plan Early

The holidays are upon us and the spike in the number of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases continue. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, are you planning your usual December Holidays with a visit to your elderly aunt who lives in an assisted living facility?

Although your grandparents live independently in their own home, are you and other immediate family members planning to drop by on Christmas Day?

Without a doubt, Christmas Day, Hanukkah and other winter holidays and family traditions are being upended by COVID-19, which is still raging throughout the country. The pandemic has made it difficult to celebrate the holidays and observe long-time family traditions due to fears of COVID-19 exposure and government restrictions that limit the number of people permitted to gather in a group.

A major reason for the restriction is that activities involving crowds can turn into what public health officials call “superspreader events” in which one person infected with COVID-19 can spread the virus to other people attending the event who, in turn, can spread it to people who did not attend the event.

For most of the year, long-term care facilities have been hit hard by COVID-19. To reduce the risk of infections, administrators at assisted living facilities and nursing homes limited visits of non-residents to healthcare professionals, and other essential workers. This meant that families could not have in-person visits with their loved ones, many of whom battled loneliness due to not being able to see family and the cancellation of group activities at the facility.

With the surge in the number of COVID-19 cases, family members and friends are still banned from long-term care facilities for the upcoming holidays. Because of this, Marjorie Moore, executive director of VOYCE, a St. Louis-based organization that advocates for people living in long-term care facilities, suggests families and their loved ones have discussions in advance on how to celebrate the holidays.

Holidays And Long-Term Care Facilities

When it comes to long-term care facilities, Moore recommends families contact their loved one’s assisted living facility or nursing home to find out their holiday visitor policies.

Moore also suggests having one person in the family serve as the “point person” so that facility staff, which is already stretched thin, will not have to handle multiple calls from multiple family members who want to reach one resident.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, some long-term care facilities have allowed “window visits,” in which family members stood outside their loved one’s window to visit. Window visits will more than likely continue during the holiday season.

On the other hand, some senior living communities, particularly those with units for older adults who live independently, will allow socially distant visits from immediate family members who must also wear masks.

Be Creative In Holiday Planning

Families are encouraged to be creative when coming up with holiday plans. However, Moore advises family members to make sure that their idea meets the needs and desires of their loved one. Some activities, she said, may seem like a great idea for the family, but leave the senior confused or frustrated, depending on the senior’s situation.

For the most part, families may choose to modify their annual traditions or add new activities into the mix. For example, families can:

  • Organize a virtual family holiday meal. Older adults who know how to use a laptop or tablet or those who can get help from a facility staff member, can schedule a video conference with their family to eat a meal together at the same time.
  • Have a socially distant visit on an outside patio, deck, or porch with only a few relatives or friends.
  • Prepare to-go meals for older adults who live independently and leave the meal on their loved one’s porch. Also, seniors who love to cook can prepare to-go meals, put them on the porch, and have family members pick them up. Family members and seniors, both wearing masks, can keep at the recommended physical distance (6 feet or more) and visit outside.
  • Send holiday cards, handwritten notes, or decorations to older adults in long-term facilities.
  • Continue using FaceTime or Zoom to have virtual visits with senior relatives who remain at home or in a facility.

Moore suggests adding a little extra to a virtual visit by having a family member place the laptop or tablet in a room with a Christmas tree and turning on the tree lights for the first time for all to see, or watching a favorite holiday movie together, if possible.

Remember To Take Precautions

Public health officials say they are aware that family members will want to visit each other during the holidays. In fact, seniors living in long-term care facilities may temporarily leave their residence to visit family for the holidays.

In anticipation of residents leaving nursing homes or other long-term care settings, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) issued an alert to facilities, residents, and family members that urges them to follow visitation guidelines and infection prevention measures during the holiday season.

Upon returning, CMS suggests that providers screen and monitor residents for COVID-19 signs and symptoms and consider placing them on transmission-based precautions if they show signs of COVID-19 infection.

Long-term care residents have already experienced loneliness and loss to a “degree that would have been unthinkable before this year began,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in a prepared statement. While the holidays are times for celebrations, Verma urges everyone not to let their guard down because staying safe is the number one priority.

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