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The coronavirus pandemic is like nothing else that we have experienced in our lifetime and because of this there really was no way to be prepared. The challenges that we have had to face have disrupted us mentally and emotionally and have put into perspective a lifestyle that we may have taken for granted.
For those of us who have loved ones in nursing homes, whether it be a spouse or parent, these times have been incredibly unsettling and stressful. We have been cut off from them and them from us. It is unnerving thinking about losing our sources of connection with our loved ones when every day is not a given at this stage in life.
The following story is just one that exemplifies the heartache and decision making that many are facing in response to the pandemic when it comes to our loved ones in nursing homes.
The Story of Mary and Dale…
One day recently, Mary made an appointment to come see me. Mary is a petite woman who always has a very pleasant smile on her face. I have come to know her and her husband, Dale, quite well over the last year. Dale suffers from Alzheimer’s and Mary had been caring for him in their home for several years since this diagnosis. They came to me in the Spring of 2019 to help get qualified for Medicaid as this would allow Mary to remain at home and Dale would be moved to a facility to get the proper care he needed.
As Mary sat across from me, I could tell something was not quite right. She appeared visibly distraught and was nervously fidgeting in her chair as we started our conversation by catching up since the last time we had met. When she began to speak, her voice sounded frail and she was on the verge of tears. Mary told me that due to the pandemic, the facility where Dale is had stopped allowing visitation. She stated that she has not really been able to communicate with her husband. On the few occasions when they were able to do a Zoom call together, he was never wearing his hearing aids so he could not hear her well and he also did not have his glasses on so he could not see her well either. Also, Mary expressed concern over the fact that Dale did not appear to be wearing his own clothing.
Mary was devastated over the fact that she could not be face to face with her husband and the lack of communication had prompted her to consider removing Dale from the facility and bringing him home. This ultimately was why she was sitting across from me on this day. Mary wanted to know what would happen if she brought him home and was seeking validation to do so.
My heart broke that day. Staring into the eyes of this woman who was experiencing so much pain, I tried to put myself in her shoes. I tried to put myself in the shoes of everyone who was experiencing something similar due to the pandemic and empathize with the emotional rollercoaster they must be experiencing. Taking this time to gather my thoughts, I knew what I was about to say was not what Mary wanted to hear.
I remembered back to the first day she came to my office and it was time for her to decide to move Dale to a nursing home facility. Mary was just as upset then, knowing that she could no longer care for him and care for herself. She was utterly exhausted from getting up with Dale several times a night. She also could not leave him alone to run errands or even talk on the phone. Dale’s disease was causing him to experience bouts of anger and jealously. Mary knew that his irritability and aggressiveness were a symptom of Alzheimer’s, but at times it was not safe for Dale to remain home with this occurring.
I looked at Mary and told her that I understood her concerns. These were not normal times and it was an extremely challenging time for everyone. Then I told her what she probably knew deep down but did not want to hear. Dale was in the best possible place that he could be. Even though they are apart, Mary should feel confident that she chose an excellent facility for him where his needs are fully taken care of. I gently reminded her of what it had been like trying to care for him before he was moved there.
Mary sat in silence and I could tell she was thinking back to these days. I reassured her that it was the right decision to leave Dale in the care of the nursing home facility. Since the beginning of the pandemic, they had been taking all the proper precautions and had not had one positive test. If Mary brought him home and discovered she still could not care for him, they may not allow him to return. Was it worth taking this risk?
My name is Christina and I am the Outreach Director for The Law Firm of Christopher W. Dum, an elder law and estate planning firm. The work that I do is primarily focused on helping aging seniors with failing health or mental abilities get the help they need. This involves attaining skilled level care without the client having to lose everything they have worked so hard for their entire lives.
What you have just read is a true story about two of my clients whose names have been changed for privacy reasons. This story, like many others that I could tell you, brings to light the challenges being faced due to the pandemic and the importance of having hard conversations to make sure comprehensive health care directives are in place.
For the families who have loved ones in nursing care facilities that have been shuttered due to the pandemic, the same concerns resonate. They worry that loved ones are isolated from their support systems which could contribute to a decline in health. They are worried that their loved ones may end up forgetting who they are. They worry that their loved ones are not being cared for properly. Where this is something that has never been navigated before, these are all valid concerns. The part that needs work right now, is how to lessen these concerns and how we can better prepare if faced with something like this in the future.
We can also work with these families to help them prepare the best that they can. This can be done by ensuring a proper estate plan is in place and that it remains up to date. Right now, more than ever with the swirling uncertainty of the pandemic, this is one of the most important things that should be taken care of.