Retirement Homes and Senior Living facilities have been in the news a lot lately, with the Life Care Center Nursing Home in Kirkland, Washington being linked to dozens of Corona virus deaths.
While what happened in Washington was as much about how the facility responded to exposure, as the exposure itself, the uncomfortable truth is that most facilities – most people, in fact – will face some sort of exposure to COVID-19 in the next few months.
So for those of us with loved ones in facilities like these, it begs the question:
Should we be bringing our parent(s) home from a senior living facility or retirement home?
This is a question we’ve been thinking quite a lot about, as professionals who run a retirement home, and as individuals who have mothers, fathers, and loved ones in senior living facilities like ours.
Ultimately this decision needs to be made on a case by case basis, and there are a lot of factors to take into account. We’ve listed several key factors here to help you think through the decision.
What to consider before bringing a loved one home
Isolation isn’t good for anybody and there is no doubt that being in the company of others will go a long way to reversing the effects of any quarantine your loved ones have already been under.
You (or other family members) are someone to read the funnies with, you are someone to look at old photo albums with, you are someone to go through this weird time with. If you or your family have increased time to spend with your parent(s) during quarantine, it might be helpful to bring them home.
Most senior living facilities have been on lock-down for weeks now, allowing in only essential visitors and being disinfected regularly. This limits the chance that your loved one will be exposed to the virus, at least until critical infrastructure, like extra ventilators, are in place.
Few homes have followed such strict protocols. If there’s a strong chance that anyone in your household has been exposed to COVID-19 or if people are still coming in and out of your home regularly, it is may be unwise to bring your parents there.
In a quarantine situation there is every risk of losing muscle tone and strength. What else is there to do, after all, than sit in the recliner and watch the news all day? With decreased activity and moving around comes the increased probability of a fall. Being in an environment where there is freedom and movement (and the safety to go with it) is always better than quarantine.
If you have the chance to take mom for a short walk outside every one of these beautiful mornings, you should do it! Heck, even if she walks to the porch rocker and back, that’s better than what might be happening now where there are few options.
Other important factors to consider
Do not let the coronavirus distract you from what your parent will need to have available and what your parent will need from you.
Here are some key factors to consider before deciding to move a family member:
COVID-19 is terrifying, but the presence of COVID-19 hasn’t lessened the risk of other infections. The Nora virus, or even the flu, still pose a significant risk for the elderly. There are many infectious agents that can be passed around a home without anyone with a healthy immune system knowing it.
During healthy times, the Cascades disinfects all surfaces 3 times a day to fight against these risks. If you’re bringing a loved one home, you need to have disinfected your house to within an inch of its life, and need to be willing to continue to disinfect it regularly.
Facilities that specialize in elderly care often have special equipment to control the spread of an infection in case someone does get sick. If you are thinking of bringing home a family member, make sure you have the right supplies and know how to use them – things like masks, disposable gowns, face shields, and disinfectant. Know that most masks are more effective at preventing the wearer from giving someone else a disease than preventing someone from catching a disease.
Falls remain one of the greatest risks the elderly face. Retirement homes are specially designed to limit falls. We routinely remove tripping hazards, use special lighting that works with macular degeneration, remove steps, etc. Take a critical look at your home to make sure it is safe for an elderly person.
Can you remove throw rugs? Is there enough space to maneuver a walker? Is your home well lit (particularly in the bathroom at night)? Are there steps? Can you install grab bars in showers/bathrooms?
Though retirement homes and other senior living facilities are doing everything they can to avoid resident exposure to COVID-19, they are healthcare facilities. All healthcare facilities right now have an increased chance of exposure.
So before bringing Mom or Dad home, consider whether there are other people in your home who you would not want to expose to a higher risk of COVID-19, such as immunocompromised individuals or individuals with a history of diseases that don’t interact well with COVID-19.
Major Medical Support
And of course, all of this assumes that Mom and/or Dad don’t require major medical support. If Mom is dealing with dementia or has any cognitive challenges, consider the fact that such an enormous change in venue and routine may be too disruptive.
If even small changes throw her for a loop now, a large change could cause a significant setback. These things must be balanced with any potential benefits moving someone home might have.
We hope this information will be helpful to you in deciding whether or not to remove your loved one from a retirement home or senior living community.
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