Nursing homes using technology to help with isolation under COVID-19

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With social isolation as the new normal, nursing homes have placed restrictions on visitors.

Residents at these facilities are more at risk of getting COVID-19 so precautions are necessary to save lives.

But what does that isolation do to those living there?

Some facilities, like Terra Vista in Oak Brook Terrace, are trying new ways to stay connected.

Up until a week ago, Becky Liscum visited her 90-year-old mom Joan almost daily. Now she fills the void with frequent Facetime chats.

“There’s nothing like holding a hand and kiss on the cheek. There is nothing that is going to replace that,” Liscum said. “But we all understand the importance of this and this cyber contact, if that’s the way it is right now, it’s the best.”

Only essential medical staff are allowed in and out. Food and supply deliveries are now met on the sidewalk.

It’s the new normal for the 92 residents with dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease and their family members. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities across the country are on lockdown with strict protocols designed to keep the patients and staff healthy during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Reaction from family members has been mixed. Most understand the need for isolation when it comes to the elderly, the population known to have the highest death rates among COVID-19 patients.

“When the guidelines first came down, I tried not to have a panic attack because the contact is important for both of us,” Liscum said. “She needs the socialization and I need to see how she is doing and we have wonderful moments together.”

Laura Zung is the CEO of Lancaster Health Group, the company that operates terra vista. She says while safety is critical, so is socialization.

“Initially a lot of family members were very concerned,” she said. “But now a few days into it they understand early precautions now everyone understands the gravity of the situation. … They need socialization. Everyone in this building has dementia that would also cause anxiety and depression to rise. So we’re trying to keep things as normal as possible.”

Zung said every staff member is assigned to four or five residents.

“(They) try to make calls and Facetime to families,” she said. “Even just a few minutes to see each other and communicate.”

The staff at Terra Vista Memory Care has been using digital means long before COVID-19. Simply hearing a loved one’s voice helps ease nighttime anxiety for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

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