Care home visitor restrictions taking mental health toll on seniors' families
VANCOUVER -- You might not see their pain.
Or understand the anguish they are feeling.
But there is another layer of suffering being brought on by the pandemic for families with loved ones isolated in long-term care.
Like the seniors they love, family members are beginning to recognize the mental toll COVID-19-related visitor restrictions are taking on them too.
“It impacts your sleep, it impacts your work,” says Adrian Carney, whose 83-year-old mother is in a nursing home.
“There’s been times where I just started crying … It’s just so overwhelming and the thing about it is not being able to help this person that you care about and their ability to help themselves is highly restricted," the Vancouver woman told CTV News.
Victoria doctor Ted Rosenberg works with frail, elderly people. He’s seen first-hand how pandemic visiting restrictions are affecting families.
“They’re just so distraught and feeling hopeless about the situation, fearful their loved one may die during the restrictions and they may never see them again,” Rosenberg said.
“It’s causing a lot of anxiety, depression, insomnia, all kinds of mental health problems and I’m sure it’s affecting their relationships as well,” he said.
He gave the example of a 91-year-old woman who has been married 70 years. Prior to visitor restrictions, she would visit her husband multiple times a week at his care home, which has been locked down again.
“I’ve been getting calls from her because her anxiety levels are increasing,” Rosenberg said. “She’s having trouble sleeping ... She’s worried all the time about her husband.”
He added that people “are feeling anguish and very profound worry,” and that the lockdowns have had a major impact.
Leslie Nerheim hasn’t had a face-to-face visit with her mom in almost a year.
“I’ve had anxiety for a few years now, but it’s been controlled. In the last few months, it’s coming back up,” she said.
“I do stay up at night crying and worrying … I’m messing up at work with things I would have never done before,” said Nerheim, who also worries she’s less patient with her own kids.
Rosenberg says if people are having a tough time, they should seek help.
“If people feel that their sleep is affected, their appetite is affected, they’re feeling anxious all the time, they’re having trouble with their daily function, they should definitely reach out to their primary caregiver … nurse practitioner or a mental health practitioner.”
He says mindful meditation is also helping some people cope.
He’s hopeful that with vaccinations underway in long-term care, visitor restrictions put in place to protect seniors from the virus can soon be eased.
Thursday is Bell Let’s Talk Day. A list of mental health resources in B.C. can be found here.