Memory Care, Restrictions & COVID-19

A view from within senior living memory care during the pandemic

It is getting close to three months since visiting restrictions began at Emerald Crest. The week before the restrictions, I was ice fishing on Leech Lake and now we’ve had temperatures in the 90s. Winter is a distant memory. Where our world was, or where we thought our world was a few months ago, is so different from now. Our lives are so different.

COVID-19 concerns for residents, family

Covid-19 is more of a reality to so many of us. I know it is to me. I have had many people who I care about die. I have had many people I care about have the disease and recover.

My feelings about this pandemic have changed too. Several weeks ago, I must admit, I was very pessimistic. I thought that despite the best efforts of senior care facilities, that the disease would get into virtually every place, and that it would be devastating. I thought that it was almost inevitable that a high percentage of seniors in facilities would die. I did not wish that, I hoped it not to be true, but it is what I thought.

Worst of all, I thought, was that in our attempts to save lives we had cut people off from their friends and family. ‘No visitors’ as you are aware. So, I feared that we would have people cut off from their loved ones and still get sick. Part of me thought, “Just stay open. Let people live their lives. They are going to get it anyway. At least let them live their last days or weeks or months able to still see their family.” The costs seemed high and the measures seemed to be inadequate. The potential, and unlikely in my mind, benefits of our preventative measures did not seem worth the cost.

Encouraged by our progress

I no longer think this way. I have a lot more hope. I have more hope and even optimism because I have seen firsthand COVID-19 infection. I have spoken with colleagues about infection in other places. My hope lies in that our means of prevention, while not completely foolproof, do work and have worked. In several places that have had infections, the infection has been largely contained. I have had known exposure to people infected with the virus and have not gotten the disease nor do I believe I have spread the disease. I credit our facemasks, face shields, goggles, distancing, hand washing, sanitizing and all the rest of it for that fact. Our preventative and reactive measures are effective. If they were not, then many places would have had much greater spread of the virus, and with worse outcomes.

Staff, families and loved ones: patiently staying safe

I believe that what we are doing now is worth it. And yes, the price is high. And yes, this does not seem to be ending anytime real soon. I think senior care is in the midst of a long journey. We don’t know if we’re a quarter or a half or how far along the journey we are. We need to be patient. And I mean ‘we.’ I know many families are getting impatient and trust me, the staff is too.

I know it is easy for me to say ‘practice patience’. Some of you have or will lose a loved one in a facility during this pandemic. We have had both COVID and non-COVID related deaths. We will almost certainly have more before visiting restrictions are significantly lifted. So, for many of you there is an even higher cost. I know that for many of you losing your loved one or having their cognition changed significantly is a real fear.

I am convinced that we will make it out of this much better than I thought a couple months ago. You will be able to give your loved one a hug again. We know more and are doing better than we were a couple months ago. We are still constantly improving and seeking to improve. As more and more testing has become available, we have been testing because we can, and we know it works. If you were to tell me six months ago about how much we are doing now, I would not have believed it possible. Our team of people from bottom to top is functioning so effectively and while not always easy, it is much more ‘normal’ and sustainable now than I ever would have thought.

Staying safe, enjoying the present

We have grown and have methods that we will continue to use in some capacity in the future. FaceTime and other video calling have been great for residents and family. It’s not the same as a visit in person and may not work for everyone, but especially for those who live so far away it’s a great way to connect. Our activity packets have helped our residents to pass the time with something made just for them. I’ve learned about how much joy $3 can bring in the form of walking around with a 12 pack of off-brand root beer and handing them out. I’ve heard many people exclaim, “Well I haven’t had a root beer in who knows how long? That sounds great!”

If you’re chomping at the bit to get in for a visit to your loved one, that’s because you love and care and worry about them. That’s a good thing, not a bad thing. You will get to see your family member again. I continue to remind people that family and friends in memory care are likely doing better than you are. I think it’s safe to say that most of our residents have been through much tougher stretches in their lives than what they are going through now. We will come out the other end.

I will see you again too. But for now, I’m going to buy some root beer.

Reverend Arlen Solem

Arlen Solem has been a Cassia chaplain since November of 2016 and has been with Emerald Crest Memory Care since April of 2018. Prior to coming to Cassia, he was a hospice chaplain and served churches in Milwaukee. 

He was born in Minnesota but has lived in 5 different states and 3 countries.  Having known so many different people and ways of life has helped Arlen to be a curious observer and lover of the variety of people that God has made. Arlen loves people and their stories. He relishes the time he is able to spend with those he serves. 

He has been married for 14 years to his wife Marit. They have 3 children ages 12, 6 and 4.