COVID-19 has not only fiercely attacked the at-risk elders in our community physically — eight out of 10 COVID-19 deaths reported in the U.S. have been adults 65 years or older — but also takes a toll on their emotional and psychological bodies as well. Many Housecall Providers patients in adult care homes and assisted living facilities remained quarantined for the majority of 2020, separated not only from their families and friends but from people living right down the hall, too. Experts say that, within this segment of the population, that type of prolonged isolation can lead to depression, anxiety, increased dementia and weight loss.
Families needed to get creative in response to the loneliness and boredom facing their loved ones, and they did. We all heard stories and saw videos of people playing music and singing through bedroom windows or donning full personal protective equipment to wheel their mom or dad to the nearby park for a change in scenery and some needed time together. Some elders even entered the social networking world (a few reluctantly) to hear the latest family news, meet a new grandchild or family pet, or just to see a familiar face looking back. While the last 20 months have been bleak — especially before the COVID vaccine was available —these types of interventions have truly kept the home fires burning and shined a light on the importance of staying engaged and connected with each other during the toughest of times.
While living alone in a fifth-floor apartment of his retirement community suits him, Housecall Providers patient Owen Miller has had a strong family connection during the pandemic. His daughter Kate Miller phoned him daily and, when the weather was good, met him outside in the courtyard for some face-to-face time. His grandchildren, son and daughter-in-law visit, too, and took him out once it was safe to do so.
Three months before the lockdown, his granddaughter purchased an Amazon Echo Show, a video chat system that is summoned when the magic word is spoken. Through that device, he gets to have video visits with her and his two great-grandchildren.
When it comes to entertainment, nothing tops the list like YouTube. “When I introduced dad to YouTube ten years ago, he absolutely loved it, and has been an avid watcher ever since,” says Kate. He enjoys videos on forestry, mining and nature, but especially videos about how things work, which keep his mind active and alert.
Owen has tried to socialize with other residents at the dining hall but, with COVID-19 and scheduling rules, those opportunities are few and far between. With the news of his 104th birthday making the rounds, he is pleased that he has become something of a celebrity. “People know my name now, but the problem is, I don’t know theirs,” he says, laughing. Still, the reality of isolation within his community due to mobility issues and restrictions was apparent in his joke.
Owen has been a patient for five years under the care of Family Nurse Practitioner Cathie Gurgle and, according to Kate, has enjoyed their relationship. “Dad always feels better after a visit from Cathie because she listens and addresses his worries or concerns right there in the comfort of his favorite red chair,” she says. “It has taken a lot of pressure off me knowing that Housecall Providers will be there for Dad the rest of his life.”