October 25, 2020

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Eased visiting restrictions good news for those with Alzheimer's

The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on everyone, but perhaps especially so for people living with Alzheimer’s — an irreversible disease that destroys brain cells, leading to a loss of cognitive ability and memory — and other forms of dementia.

At Winnipeg’s Misericordia Place personal care home, families caring for individuals with dementia say one of the biggest challenges of COVID-19 has been its negative impact on family visitations, which were at one time prohibited altogether, and which are still subject to some restrictions.

It’s been a difficult circumstance for health care staff as well, who have had the difficult job of trying to explain to residents with a tendency for forgetfulness why family members aren’t coming to visit or must visit less frequently than before.

As health care staff, residents and families pause to recognize World Alzheimer’s Day today, they can celebrate some progress on the family visitation front. Thanks in large part to careful adherence to COVID-19 precautions and protocols, visiting restrictions have eased in recent months, allowing residents and families an opportunity to visit face-to face outdoors, albeit with masks on.

Staff noted an immediate and remarkable improvement in the lives of the residents under their care, who were clearly overjoyed with the opportunity to reconnect with loved ones. The visits also gave family members, caregivers and facility staff a chance to connect and consult.

These visitations served to reinforce something that staff, residents and families have long recognized: that there is no substitute for the role of loved ones within the extended care team. The energy and vibrancy they bring is invaluable, with family members, friends and companions all contributing to the emotional care and support of residents.

While much credit is due to health care staff who, while visits were prohibited, devised creative ways to ensure residents could maintain important connections with family, friends and caregivers (including telephone, FaceTime and other forms of video chats), it’s clear that nothing compares to good old-fashioned, face-to-face contact.

As health care professionals, we are grateful to see the reunions and reconnections that have been taking place between the residents under our care and their loved ones. And with summer drawing to a close, we’re delighted that in-room visits (with appropriate precautions in place) have now begun.

We’re not out of the woods just yet, of course. The easing of visitor restrictions is worthy of celebration, and we all look forward to the days where a "return to normal" will make them unnecessary. For the foreseeable future, however, a prudent, safety-first approach requires the ongoing cooperation, and understanding of family and caregivers.

We know from experience that placing a family member with dementia in a personal care home is one of life’s most difficult transitions. We understand that family has a vested interest in being involved in their loved one’s care, and that they are eager to assist with tasks ranging from helping with meals and activities, to combing hair or just sitting and listening. We welcome that support, and appreciate its importance to the well-being of our residents.

That being said, compliance with protocols aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 remains a must. By working together, we can help ensure our collective safety while providing the best care possible under extraordinary circumstances.

In the meantime — and in the spirit of World Alzheimer’s Day — we encourage everyone to educate themselves about Alzheimer’s and the impact it has on individuals, families, and communities.

To learn more visit ilivewithdementia.ca/locations/Manitoba.

Anna Epp is a social work student at Booth University College completing a placement at Misericordia Place.


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