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Are We Killing Our Elderly?

Five weeks into the lockdown I wrote a blog asking where do we find hope. I had read in the Chicago Tribune about Anthony Gay, who as a young man, was placed in solitary confinement for 22 years. His original crime was stealing a dollar bill and a hat.

Anthony would cut himself frequently so that he would be sent to the infirmary, where the nurses would care for him. There, and only there, Anthony would “feel human.” He wanted to “feel alive.” This is where he found hope.

My mom lives in an assisted living facility, which went into lockdown in the early part of March. As we are nearing 5 months into this pandemic with all the necessary precautions, my mom may soon be a COVID statistic, but not from the virus itself, but because the isolation she has had to endure is killing her. My mom is a very social person.

She thrives on contact with people and with her family, esp. her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Also, the inactivity has been a major contributing factor in her heart failure. As a former hospice nurse, I had her admitted into hospice because I know that she will get quality, focused, end-of-life care for her deteriorating heart function, but another reason I had was to give her more contact with others. My mom will have her own nurse case manager, her own CNA, her own social worker and her own chaplain.

There have been many studies done and much concern from doctors and mental health

experts about the effects on the elderly who are in lockdown and/or quarantine situations. Yes, we know that we need to protect our elderly population but, in the attempt, to “save” them, are we killing them? How many of our loved ones have died by themselves, with no family member to hold their hands, leaving behind devastated families? How many have declined physically and mentally due to the lockdowns and quarantines? Put my mom in this last category. We work our whole lives to build relationships that can help sustain us in our older years and now we have snatched those relationships away. We’ve taken away their identity as friend, parent, grandparent and great-grandparent. It’s as if they have been erased!

Could hospitals and senior living facilities have worked out protocols to have one or two family members tested 2 days before entry into a facility, provided with protective gear, and limited, but quality time with their loved ones? Can this be made a priority for families to be able to speak words of love, hold a hand, even a gloved one, and help the mental health of grandma and grandpa. Can we be present to help usher them out of this world? Where’s the humanity in this aspect of the ongoing pandemic?

Like Anthony Gay, our elderly want to know they are human. They want to feel alive. Let’s give the elderly in this society some hope!

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