Seniors would rather risk COVID-19 than be lonely, BC survey suggests

"This knowledge must guide us as we focus on the ultimate goal…quality of life."


A new survey released by the Office of the Seniors Advocate BC shows that residents of long-term care and assisted living (LTC/AL) facilities would rather risk potentially contracting coronavirus than not spend time with their families.

"Residents have told us that contracting COVID-19 is not their biggest fear," the report reads. "Their bodies and minds may be diminished in function but they can still, in many cases, understand risk, know they are nearing the end of their life and know, with absolute certainty, that spending time–meaningful time–with the people they love is what they want most."

The survey data reveals that both the frequency and durations of visits to LTC/AL facilities have declined. Prior to the pandemic, 55 percent of visitors to such facilities were visiting more than once a week, and visits lasted longer than an hour 65 percent of the time. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, only 14 percent of visitors are visiting more than once a week, and only 9 percent visit for an hour or longer at a time.

While many individuals are intentionally limiting their time with their loved ones in order to prevent spreading or catching the virus, about half of all respondents with family in palliative care say they were, due to restrictions, prevented from spending as much time with their loved ones as they would have liked to before they passed away.

Nearly a quarter say they were not allowed to touch their family members and could not kiss them goodbye.

The results has been detrimental for LTC/AL residents. 46 percent of visitors reported that their loved one's physical health had deteriorated since the pandemic began, and 58 percent reported that their loved ones' cognitive function and mood had worsened. Use of antidepressants and antipsychotics were also increased since the pandemic started.

The stark portrait in these facilities mirrors reports from the United States, where doctors similarly noted a decline in physical and mental health among LTC/AL residents.

The report also contains anecdotes from both LTC/AL residents and their visitors, similarly adding to the grim situation of residents.

“My mom was very quiet during our first visit: she acted like her family had given up on her," one testimony reads. "All mom wanted was for me to hug her and for me to let her see me. I wasn’t allowed, I understood but she didn’t." Residents being unable to understand why their loved ones are not visiting them is a common theme among those who provided personal stories.

Another statement reads "I miss hugging [my mother]. I’m everything to her and of course I don’t want her to get sick; however, I don’t think she wants to stay alive if I can’t be right by her side."

The report offers a number of recommendations on how to improve LTC/AL facilities for residents.

The report suggests that not only LTC/AL facilities be allowed to designate residents a long-term visitor who can stay for longer amounts of time, but also recommends that these facilities open themselves up to social visitors too.

"The number of social visitors allowed should reflect the need for immediate family members (adult children, spouses) who are not the designated care partner to see their loved one," the report recommends.

"[As] we near the end of our life, what is most important is spending time with the ones we love. This knowledge must guide us as we focus on the ultimate goal…quality of life."


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