Restrictions on long-term care visits can hurt, not help

In an effort to keep COVID-19 out of long-term care homes, loved ones and caregivers are being shut out as well.

While restrictions on visits are necessary to protect frail residents at major risk of succumbing to the virus, CARP worries that ongoing isolation could be doing an unchecked amount of harm.

“The negative effects of keeping vulnerable seniors separated from their loved ones, many of whom provide additional unpaid care, are being ignored,” warns Bill VanGorder, CARP’s Interim Chief Policy Officer. “The loneliness and depression that comes with prolonged isolation can be deadly to someone confined to their room under questionable levels of care.”

Currently, people can visit residents outdoors, as long as they stay 6 feet apart. Indoor visits are limited to 1 loved one at a time, with masks and limited physical contact, and need to be booked well in advance. This week, certain Provinces began to allow some residents to be taken out to appointments by a family member as long as COVID protocols are followed. VanGorder notes that these protective measures can often seem like “warehousing of residents”, especially as those with dementia struggle to understand the reasons they can’t see their families. On top of that, there’s little consistency in how the rules are observed from Province to Province or home to home, leaving margin for error in how restrictions are enforced.

“We know these homes are short staffed at the best of times,” notes VanGorder. “When you take away the loved ones and scores of volunteers who provide the extra care needed to fill in the gaps, it’s a recipe for disaster.” VanGorder also notes that seniors and their families weren’t consulted on the restrictions—a pattern CARP sees perpetuated all too often.

We must make sure that, in the future, pandemic readiness and responses are included in decision making about care for aging family members, and whether the communal setting of long-term care homes are the best option. Seniors and their families must have a voice in the planning of their loved ones’ lives as their needs develop with age.

“When you don’t put the needs of older people first in developing the policy that drastically affects their quality of life, it’s ageism, pure and simple,” he concludes. “CARP will never allow that to go unchallenged.”

Find out more about CARP’s long-term care advocacy