October 2020

Protocols put in place by our provincial government to severely curtail visits to those living in long-term care, have created nothing but heartache among those of us who have a person living in a care home.

Many of us visited our loved one multiple times per week, some even visited daily, before this virus struck. In my case, every single one of my immediate family were regular visitors — myself, my two daughters and my five grandchildren.

Visits are now limited to one weekly 30-minute time slot and only one family member, the designated visitor, is allowed — visits that are socially distanced and supervised with masks in place.

These restrictions have been in place since visits resumed in mid-July.

Of course, having limitations in place to protect care home residents is necessary, as no one wants an outbreak in the home where a loved one resides.

But it strikes me as punitive that the entire province is under such restrictive protocols when it is only the two health jurisdictions at the coast where all the problems with COVID-19 transmission have been going on — Coastal Health and Fraser Health.

And we are being told that the transmissions that have occurred in the facilities at the coast are not being brought into these buildings by visitors. It is infected staff who are putting at risk those who live in care homes.

So how about our provincial government showing a little more compassion and relaxing some of the guidelines in those health jurisdictions where COVID in care homes has not been a problem — like Interior Health, where, as far as we public have been made aware, there has only been one case of the virus in a care home to date, back in April, and it was a staff member who then tested positive?

So something as simple as perhaps allowing the designated visitor status to change, maybe monthly?

Or possibly two people being allowed to visit at the same time instead of only one — so more family members have the privilege of time spent with a loved one not seen since March because, as we have all been made aware, this virus is not going to go away anytime soon.

And should COVID start infiltrating facilities that are outside of Coastal or Fraser Health, stricter guidelines could then be reintroduced and we family members would be in a better position to understand and accept why they are there, and not feel like the current visiting restrictions put in place provincewide come as a result of any mishandling of the situation within the health authorities at the coast.

Some good news, finally, for caregivers who had their loved one in a day program previous to the shutdown.

Day programs for adults with dementia are now back up and running, albeit in a curtailed manner, although one day a week of participation is still better than no days at all, which, unfortunately, has been the case for the past seven months.

I am sure there are many people out there who do not give much thought to the concept of being able to relax in your own home. That they are able to kick off their shoes, put their feet up, perhaps with a cup of tea or glass of wine in hand, and let themselves unwind now that their day is coming to an end.

This is a dream scenario for anyone caregiving to someone with dementia.

There is never any opportunity to relax in their own home. It is a 24/7 job that never provides for even short breaks.

A caregiver must continually be alert to what is going on in their household, making even a sound night’s sleep an impossibility.

This is especially true for those who have no family living nearby to lend assistance and give them that precious alone time, leaving them with no breaks, no time off at all.

So having day programs back up and running is being celebrated by those who so need that break, whether it is errands waiting to be taken care of or the knowledge that they can head home, put their feet up and allow themselves the freedom to let go and relax, even if it is only for a few short hours.

And to also know that, looking forward to the following week, they are able to do this all over again.

Sheryl Theessen is an Okanagan writer, mother and wife to someone living with Alzheimer’s disease. Excerpts from her caregiver’s diary will appear regularly. Email: theessen@shaw.ca.