Eldercare: Pandemic affects mental health of local families | Local
Over the past two years, Yvonne Pecora, 83, has stayed in four different assisted living facilities.
Some of those moves were prompted by a need for specific medical care as Pecora’s dementia worsened, said her daughter Patrice Tatham, of Lewiston. Others have been spurred on by the hope of individualized attention in smaller establishments.
Through it all, COVID-19 safety protocols have varied over time and at each facility. Although Tatham understands the reason, she said some of these restrictions made it harder for her mother.
One of the toughest times, Tatham said, was during the height of the pandemic. The assisted living facility where Pecora was staying did not allow in-person visits and required that items brought into the facility be kept for three days.
It was bad enough, Tatham said, but worse when Pecora’s youngest son died of cancer.
“They didn’t let me in to tell her in person, and she’s having trouble hearing. So a carer came into her room and sat with her and had to explain to her that her son was dead,” Tatham said. “I have the impression that she still does not understand that he is gone. So I thought, ‘Let me bring a picture of my brother for her to have.’ And they still won’t let me bring this. She still had to wait three days before she could have the photo. So absolutely no comfort during this period.
Despite those strict protocols, Pecora contracted COVID-19 at the facility, Tatham said. After that, Tatham was allowed “compassionate visits”.
“She had been isolated for so long, it looked like she had given up,” Tatham said. “They weren’t brushing her teeth, they weren’t cleaning her nails, they weren’t bathing her. Just, basically negligence. And I understand that it’s really difficult to find employees, I understand. This is why it is so important to be able to monitor your loved ones in these facilities, because you know better what is going on.
From an assisted living perspective, many restrictions, while necessary, have also had a clear impact on the emotional well-being of residents.
Ashley Blake, executive director of Royal Plaza Retirement in Lewiston, was working in skilled nursing at the start of the pandemic. For many seniors, existing mental health issues have been compounded due to the strict guidelines institutions have taken, she said.
“Mental illness has seen a drastic increase simply because of isolation,” she said. “The symptoms of dementia were greatly exacerbated on the skilled side. (It was) just loneliness, I think.
At the Royal Plaza Retirement, tours were initially closed, but reopened several months ago. Family members are screened at the door and the facility tests twice a week for exposure.
“They’re more socially engaged, they do activities, they eat more, honestly,” she said.
Although restrictions have eased at Pecora’s current residence, visitation is still limited and the facility where she is staying closes for two weeks whenever there is a positive case.
Pecora’s long-term health was also affected, Tatham said. During a bout of pneumonia, Pecora was again transferred to another facility and kept in solitary confinement for two weeks. Since then, she alternates between a walker and a wheelchair, depending on the day.
When Tatham can visit her, her mother “lights up”, she said. She helps her mother with her nails and toenails – grooming routines that staff are often too busy to check. They often FaceTime with family members. Pecora is always in good spirits when she leaves, Tatham said, but it’s between visits that she worries.
“She barely understands how to answer the phone. And then if something goes wrong with the TV, which is constant, and she has no TV to watch, she just sits there in silence,” Tatham said. ” It makes me crazy. Sometimes she might call me and say, “My TV isn’t working,” and I’ll send the girl up front to, you know, see which button she pressed was wrong. But it’s just little things like that, which add up.
Above all else, Tatham said she wanted to be able to take care of her mother – to be able to clean Pecora’s room, organize things the way she likes, make sure she has water and do whatever she can. to put her at ease.
“I have friends, family members who didn’t want to get vaccinated, and I just said yes, because I want to see my mom,” Tatham said. “I want to be able to come in. I just don’t think everyone knew the magnitude – or even the fallout – of this pandemic.”
Sun can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @Rachel_M_Sun. This report is made possible by the Lewis-Clark Valley Healthcare Foundation in partnership with Northwest Public Broadcasting, the Lewiston Tribune and the Moscow-Pullman Daily News.