Dr. Sally J. Foote

Dr. Sally J. Foote

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There has been so much concern about the risks to the elderly in retirement living. I recently read an opinion in AARP magazine discouraging adult children from moving parents into assisted/retirement living. I disagree.

I have met elders who caught COVID-19 in the general community, outside of senior living. It may seem odd to think grouping people at this age would be a good thing during this pandemic, but let me share with you what I have learned during this year.

COVID-19 is spread by inhaling the virus, coated in saliva, like a fog, from talking, laughing, singing, in addition to sneezing and coughing, when less than 6 feet apart. The majority of spread now is from the asymptomatic carrier — someone who is not feverish, sneezing or coughing but has the virus in their system. This may be a child, young adult or elder.

Many people have become trusting of other co-workers, friends and family, so masks are off and people get closer than 6 feet. This is how the virus is spreading through the community. Family who are running errands, shopping, making meals and doing the housekeeping for an elder may unknowingly bring the virus to them.

In a retirement community, where the staff is enforced to wear masks, stay 6 feet back from residents and keep close contact time under 15 minutes, COVID-19 has been rare. Yes, there have been outbreaks, but far less than what we are seeing in the general community.

Catching changes

Small properties, like Jarman Center Senior Living, can enforce the policies on staff and families and reduce contagion. Personally, knowing the resident enables the staff to note any changes in appetite or attitude before it becomes more advanced. Checking in if someone misses a meal is standard, and often we have been able to catch problems before they become big.

This daily observation is difficult for tired adult children to pick up on. Parents also have a way of “hiding” or minimizing their signs. For this reason, staff at small retirement communities pick up on changes earlier and more objectively than when an elder is home alone.

This is a big reason why living in a senior retirement community is a good thing during COVID-19. Changes are caught before they are big.

Visitation policies varyThere is also an assumption that no one can visit their elder after moving into an assisted-living-type community. While open-door visitation policies are no longer possible, many properties have created ways for family to schedule a socially safe visit.

At Jarman, for example, we have private conference rooms where families can spend time together masked, signing in and out. The room is sanitized and not used for a few hours to allow ventilation.

We have also invested in HEPA filtration units to limit possible airborne spread. We have been fortunate that our resident families have followed these polices, and we have not yet had an outbreak.

I know of other properties that have created variations on visitation policies following the CDC guidelines and have successfully limited COVID-19 outbreaks while enhancing the quality of life of residents. The higher the care need for the residents, the stricter the visitation policy must be.

Nursing homes have the greatest challenge to protect the health of the resident and the staff. I have been impressed by the immediate response to control outbreaks in our local nursing homes. This is not easy, and the staff have risen to the task.

As cases are increasing in the general public, the visitation policies may become more limited. Please do your part by masking up wherever you go and support your senior community in their efforts to keep residents healthy.

Short-stay options

The stress and health risks of COVID-19 are not limited to our elders. Let us talk about the impact on the adult child.

It can be difficult for adult children to do the shopping, laundry, housekeeping, running to the doctor’s office, pharmacy for Mom as well as their own family. The stresses of home schooling, working from home and social distancing at home from those who work out of the home can take a toll.

Then there is the risk of one family member testing positive, and the whole household needs to isolate for two weeks. Now, who will take care of mom on short notice and keep her safe?

Living in a retirement community can relieve the stress and worry about COVID-19 and work. The continued loneliness of stay-at-home orders has created increased frailty in the elderly due to depression, unhealthy and medication mixups. No one is there to spend time, and that is when big problems happen. Avoid this by moving in for winter or short-stay programs.

Short-winter-stay programs are typically furnished apartments, available on a weekly or month-to-month rental.

All the services and amenities are available, and the stress of a big move decision is eliminated.

This is great for post-illness, falls or to give the adult child a break. Consider moving in to get through this upsurge in COVID-19 safely. With many of the infection controls in place, it may be far safer and healthier to live in a senior living property than home alone.

Thank you, and stay healthy!

Dr. Sally J. Foote is the owner of Tuscola’s Jarman Center Senior Living. For more, email info@jarmancenter.com.

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