Every senior is unique, and every family faces particular concerns during these unusual times. So there is no one-size-fits-all answer to answer the question if your senior loved one should be in a nursing home or similar health care facility.
Perhaps your family physician has recently told you that it's time to look into assisted living for your loved one and that it's in their best interest. But if you were beginning the search for assisted living for a loved one when Coronavirus struck the United States, your plans were likely put on a harsh hold.
We want to do what we can to guide families and caregivers considering a move into assisted living during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the article below, we're going to address how to seek the well-being of your family member in amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
We'll introduce you to the CDC's guidelines for senior care and nursing homes. We'll also help you begin the search for an assisted living facility during the pandemic. Lastly, we'll help you decide if this is the right time for your parent, grandparent, or spouse to make the move. Not everyone is a good candidate for assisted living during COVID-19.
If you have questions beyond the scope of this article, reach out to the team at Weatherly Inn.
The CDC Guidelines for Assisted Living and Senior Care Homes
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published these guidelines for long term care facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. They're quite detailed and well worth the read if you're considering moving your parent, grandparent, or spouse into an eldercare community during the pandemic.
We're sure you know about the value of wearing a facemask, hand washing, hand sanitizer, disinfectants, and social distancing by now. We won't bore you with those details again.
CDC Guidelines for Long-Term Care
For prospective nursing home residents (someone looking into assisted living) here are some facts you should know:
- Long-term care homes must have a dedicated individual in charge of the pandemic response.
- You can ask to speak to that individual about the Coronavirus response and best practices at the home, to get a feel for their competence.
- All residents, staff, and visiting families should be educated about the specific response in their eldercare community to avoid any spread of the virus.
- Expect most facilities to have strict visitor restrictions, for now.
- Visitors, staff, and residents should be closely monitored for signs of fever and sickness.
- Later, as a visitor to the home, if you aren't checked for fever and questioned about your health in detail, there's something amiss. The facility is likely not implementing many infection control procedures or precautions to limit the spread of COVID-19.
- Expect any in-person tours to be short. This is for everyone's safety until completely reopening is safe and permissible.
Once you've got a handle on basic CDC public health requirements for elder care homes, it's time to look into your assisted living options.
Consider Your Options for Assisted Living
Some senior care facilities — particularly here in Washington state — are not accepting new residents. We can't speak to their particular reasons, though. Perhaps they've had a COVID-19 case amongst their staff members or residents, or have a vast majority of residents that are at a higher risk of contracting the virus. It's also possible they might just be at full capacity.
Regardless, know that we are accepting new residents at Weatherly Inn, though the touring and screening process is a little different due to Coronavirus.
Seeking Elder Care During Coronavirus
We'd suggest you begin your search for assisted living or memory care by:
- Doing a few internet searches, and making a list of nearby facilities that look appealing
- Talking to your loved one's doctors and healthcare providers for recommendations
- Calling the facilities you like, speaking to a senior living advisor, a financial advisor, and the person in charge of CDC compliance
- Schedule a virtual tour
- And finally, visit the community in person. Just be sure to either using personal protective equipment (PPE) or wait until in-person visits are safe again.
Questions You Should Ask About Assisted Living and Coronavirus
- Have you had any COVID-19 cases here?
- What is your quarantine policy?
- Do front line staff members take additional safety precautions before and after meeting with residents?
- What happens to residents that contract COVID-19? (Most assisted living facilities are separating sick individuals at a separate location.)
- If a resident needs to move to a new location, when can they come back, and what is that process like?
- What do group activities look like during this time?
If you've completed this portion of your research, and you've found a long-term care home that seems to suit your loved one, you'll want to decide if this is the right time for your loved one to enter a quality retirement community.
Who Is a Good Fit for Residential Care During Coronavirus?
Assisted living is appropriate for many older individuals who have special healthcare needs. Per PBS, "More than 1.7 million people live in long-term care in the US, including assisted living facilities where older adults get the benefits of group living, like social interaction, and health care services."
Furthermore, a healthcare provider may suggest assisted living if your loved one:
- Has a hard time accomplishing daily tasks of living like eating, bathing, dressing, and continence
- Is struggling to manage their medications and health care routines
- Has care needs that exceed what home care can provide, such as intense medical care requirements
- Needs access to better nutrition
- Is experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, memory loss, or dementia
Still, as the family member in charge of caring for an aging adult, it's normal to feel inadequate or struggle with feelings of guilt if a doctor suggests assisted living for your parent.
These issues are particularly poignant for members of "the sandwich generation": those of us who are raising children and grandchildren while caring for an older family member and managing to hold down a job. We are so used to being the anchor of a family, the person who ends up taking care of everything for everyone. When a healthcare professional starts suggesting assisted living as an option, we can't help but feel like we're letting them down.
Addressing Caregiver Concerns During Coronavirus
COVID-19 is highly contagious. It spreads quickly from person-to-person, a phenomenon called "community spread." Apartment complexes and senior living communities become environments where the virus can thrive if they aren't disinfected regularly.
This makes some caregivers hesitant to move their family member into an assisted living community, even if that person needs a higher level of care. But it's important to see how remaining in a family home can pose those same risks — and others — for seniors.
As this pandemic unfolds, many families have brought their older family members "home" with them, only to discover the family home is not a good choice for long-term living. Perhaps your loved one has trouble negotiating the stairs or has accidentally left doors open for toddlers to scamper out to busy streets. Maybe their medications present a dangerous temptation to others in addiction recovery.
Sometimes it's too risky to house an at-risk-senior with essential health care workers who have a lot of social contact outside the home.
These issues don't reflect on your ability as a caregiver or your value as a person! Ultimately, the best thing you can do for your aging family member is to find the best situation for their unique needs. And that situation might be assisted living.