As many states grapple with reopening nursing homes to visitors, it is important that we continue to practice our prudent safety measures to help keep our vulnerable seniors healthy.
COVD-19 has wreaked havoc on our older Americans and as we open up our long term care facilities and communities to visitors, we must keep their safety at the forefront. We know how important a visit from a family member means to a lonely senior citizen and we are grateful that our older adults can have their spirits lifted by a warm visit. We still have a long road ahead of us, but seeing the smiles on the faces of the residents is worth more than gold.
Recently, Florida Governor DeSantis announced he was lifting the ban on nursing home visits for the first time since March. You could hear the compassion in his voice during the announcement because he knows how much it means to the vulnerable residents just to have someone say hello. Some of the residents may only have a few months left to live making these times extremely stressful for families. Not being able to hug the neck of a parent or grandparent has broken the hearts of many family members. Governor DeSantis listened to the experts and lifted the ban, them followed it up with an executive order with recommendations by the Florida nursing home task force.
South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster took similar steps allowing for visitations, but only outdoor visits and without the warm hugs and kisses. It was quite emotional for Governor McMaster as well. “As expected, the months of separation and isolation have caused loneliness, depression, stress and anxiety among the residents. I worry about them like you do, every day.” McMaster said.
Studies show seniors who have good social connections are 70% less likely to develop cognitive challenges than those older adults who remain isolated. The proper procedures will have to be implemented, but reopening skilled nursing communities to family visits could lesson the chance of residents experiencing dementia, Alzheimer's and depression.
According to a report in The Gerontologist, recent studies demonstrated the continued importance of friendship and positive relationship networks for nursing home residents without cognitive impairment and for residents with mild cognitive impairments. Subjective and objective support (friendship and social connectedness) are associated with psychological well-being.
Many studies indicate the positive results occur from nursing home visits, but the following are almost certain:
- Social connections-many of the leading health experts indicate social contacts and connections promote mental and physical well-being. These connections help improve quality of life and give the resident a sense of purpose.
- You care-it shows the resident that somebody cares about them.
- Memories- these special visits spark past memories that bring joy. Some of the experts say to take a photo album and have a conversation about fun times in the past. These are wonderful bonding moments and they help sharpen the mind.
- Overall health-gives visitors the opportunity to check on the health of the resident. This is the perfect time to evaluate the mental and physical health of the resident. You can assess whether they are receiving the medications they need and if they are receiving the quality care we all expect.
As we continue down the road reopening nursing homes to visitation during these uncertain times, it is important for us to remember, resident safety is number one. Alabama Nursing Home Association Executive director, Brandon Farmer summed this tedious process up clearly when he said, “While reopening visitation is critically important, our top priority remains the health and safety of our residents and staff.”