Daughter of man at care home hit by COVID-19 says loneliness is a big issue

VANCOUVER — A woman whose father suffers from dementia and lives at a B.C. care home where six people have died of COVID-19 says he is becoming increasingly lonely and anxious at the facility where few visitors are allowed.

Kelly Shellard said her 81-year-old father Bill Shellard used to eat dinner at a table with a resident who has died. Shellard says she has been in quarantine for a week after possibly being exposed to the novel coronavirus at the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver.

“He’s 81 and he’s done,” she said Tuesday. “He doesn’t want to do this any more because he’s getting depressed.”

Shellard, an elementary school teacher, said she’s been caring for her dad for five years and has seen him regularly since he was admitted to the care home about 14 months ago.

Her sister, Bobbie Shellard, recently arrived from Toronto to take over visits at the facility where an outbreak of the novel coronavirus has claimed six lives since last week.

Shellard said the care home sent a letter to families on Monday saying only “essential” visits will be permitted for residents at the end of their lives and her sister is still visiting.

She is getting updates on conditions in the care home from her sister and others with family members in the facility.

“He gets very, very anxious with his dementia and he gets anxious about the littlest of things and not having her there would be horrible for my dad,” she said of her sister.

“It’s very, very isolating. Most people have nobody to talk to and they’re beside themselves, some of them are crying, some of them are desperate, some are begging for somebody to spend time with them and talk to them,” she said through tears.

“Many of them have dementia or memory issues and that makes it even harder.”

Shellard said her father is a social person who is now confined to his room.

“It’s hard to explain to somebody who’s not capable of understanding,” she added.

Shellard said residents are going without their usual afternoon and evening snacks, upsetting their regular routine.

“So everybody’s really hungry and just begging for snacks because they’re just used to it.”

The privately operated care home referred questions to the Vancouver Coastal Health authority, which said it’s thankful to families for their patience.

“Although Lynn Valley Care Centre is up to full staffing levels, we are working with them to add additional staff as the outbreak response precautions caused a delay in the delivery of meals,” Carrie Stefanson, a spokeswoman for the health authority, said in an email.

“They absolutely do not have enough staff,” Shellard said, adding that on Monday night one licensed practical nurse and two care aides worked on three floors, each with about 45 residents.

Dr. Roger Wong, a clinical professor in the division of geriatric medicine at the University of British Columbia, said the need to contain an outbreak means people cannot enter a facility where seniors with weak immune systems are vulnerable to various infections, including COVID-19.

“I am seriously concerned about the well-being and the safety of seniors, including those who live in long-term care homes,” Wong said.

“While social distancing is important it does not mean social isolation because we know that social isolation and loneliness can have very significant negative impacts on health, and I’m talking about both mental health and physical health.”

Seniors who have mild dementia may be able to communicate with family members via technology, including apps like FaceTime, he said, but those with moderate to severe symptoms would become easily confused.

Visiting restrictions at care homes also have an impact, said Wong, past president of the Canadian Geriatric Society.

“It’s particularly stressful and frustrating for families and loved ones and care partners because they feel pretty helpless,” he said.

Wong said seniors who live at home may also become increasingly isolated, especially during spring break as grandchildren who would normally spend more time with them stay away in order to protect the elderly.

However, he said it’s important for families and neighbours to ensure the elderly have enough food and medicine and to get them out for short outings, even to the grocery store.

“I recognize that some of the retailers and vendors are reserving their early-morning hours for seniors and I absolutely applaud that.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 18, 2020.

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

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