Families Separated: Senior-Living Safety During a Pandemic

You wake up. Breakfast is being delivered to your studio apartment for the 100th day in a row. You used to be able to eat in the dining hall, but now, you are restricted to the four walls of your bedroom, which has now become the living room and dining room as well. All community events have been cancelled. Residents are not allowed in or out of the facility, and visitors have been restricted. You have watched everything possible on TV, called your friends to chat, and taken countless naps. The days seem to grow longer and longer, and sometimes you wonder if you will ever be able to hug your family again, or sit inside of a restaurant, or visit your friends. This is a general idea of what it is like to be a senior-living resident during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although this is a general overview, there are many other restrictions and health concerns for the senior community right now. The World Health Organization states that people over the age of 60 are most likely to contract COVID, which is virtually all of the residents in a senior-living community. Therefore, extreme measures have been taken to protect their physical health. However, with these restrictions comes major concern for their mental health.

On a personal note, my grandparent-in-laws have been stuck in their room at an assisted-living community for over four months. They have been allowed to go on a couple of walks outside together, and more recently, we have been allowed to do “porch visits” where we can go up to their window and chat over the phone, but this does not replace the gatherings that we used to have. They have not held their great-grandchildren in months, and prior to this pandemic, we were unsure of how much time we would have left with them due to other health concerns. Now, this precious time is wasting away, and we are doing our best to help keep them positive and reassured that this will be over some day.

My dad, on the other hand, is in a memory-care facility due to short term memory loss from a stroke. He has no understanding as to why he is not allowed to leave his room, why we cannot come in to visit, and why he cannot leave the community. We have tried to explain the pandemic to him hundreds of times, but it is incomprehensible to him. We tell him Major League Baseball has not had a season yet, that all businesses were closed for a period of time, and face masks are required when we are in public, but because he never experienced anything like this prior to his stroke, he struggles to understand what is going on. He feels like he is in a prison, which I completely understand. We can do porch visits with him as well and talk on the phone, but again, it does not replace the ability to take him out to lunch or bring him to our homes for events.

My daughter’s first birthday was in mid-July, and my father and grandparent-in-laws were not allowed to come to her party. I worry that the holiday season will approach, and they will still be trapped in their senior-living communities unable to celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year with us. Many life events and changes are happening, and they feel as though they are missing out and as family, we feel that pain, too.

There is part of me that wishes I could just move them in with my husband and me. Take care of them so they can still experience life and make memories with us. Four months seems like such a short time in the grand scheme of life, but when you are nearing the end of yours, every moment matters, and these moments are being taken away from them and from us.

My hope is that sooner rather than later, we all be together again, and life will go back to normal for all of the residents in any type of senior-living community, whether it be assisted living, memory care, skilled nursing, or longterm care. Until then, we will continue our phone calls and porch visits and prioritize their physical well-being.

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My name is Darin Wisner. No, my parents did not think they were having a boy, they just love unique gender-neutral names. I have been happily married to my Husband Greg for two years now, and we have a smiley, cuddly, and loving seven-month old girl. We also have two doggie daughters, Caroline and Shasta. My sisters and I are also the primary caretaker for our Dad. I am a born and raised Kansas City Metro girl, moved to Lawrence, KS for my first-ever teaching job, and moved back to the Lee’s Summit area once I got married. I am a proud high school teacher coming from a family of educators, as well as a high school softball coach. I love everything Kansas City has to offer, and I hope to be a source for other first time Mom’s in the KC area to find fun, exciting things to do while navigating the new life of motherhood.