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Advice for families with loved ones in long-term care during pandemic

Published: Sep. 14, 2020 at 6:32 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Families with loved ones in long-term care are looking ahead to fall and assessing their options for visiting loved ones. As our Cat Viglienzoni reports, the health department is looking at small changes that could potentially help make the visitation process easier and more meaningful for families who have felt the current restrictions don’t allow them enough connection.

The stories are heartbreaking. A husband and wife-- one in long-term care, one not. They can’t hold hands or have breakfast together.

A couple in a similar situation celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary. They can’t share a kiss or sit next to each other and eat cake.

They and their families are looking for some flexibility in Vermont’s COVID-19 restrictions so they can share what other couples take for granted: close contact. Touch.

We brought their pleas to the Agency of Human Services. Secretary Mike Smith says they’re looking at what they can do.

“Now I want to emphasize, they probably will be small changes to these regulations, to feel like what we’re used to with small amounts of contact while keeping our facilities safe and healthy,” Smith said.

It’s a delicate balance-- weighing the deadly danger of COVID-19 to those vulnerable communities against the social and emotional needs of patients who aren’t sure how much time they have left.

“These are very, very difficult times,” said Dr. Michael LaMantia, the geriatric medicine chief at the UVM Department of Medicine.

LaMantia says he’s noticed some patients experiencing stress and for those who are cognitively impaired, that can lead to behaviors like outbursts of emotion, confusion or aggression against caretakers. He tells us when he talks with families he suggests these things:

-Know the policies where your loved one lives and how you can visit.

-Talk to your doctors about concerns, and see whether there may be a way to personalize your loved one’s care plan to help them deal with stress.

-See if there are other activities in the facility that can mentally stimulate them.

-See if they can take a “mini-vacation” from the building to stay with family. That’s likely more possible with those in assisted living instead of long-term care.

But he says to be able to safely have greater contact, we need a few things:

“One of the things, unfortunately, which is the great panacea for us, is to see that we have a vaccine for the virus. We also need to have, I think, very clearly testing that is available with quick turnaround,” LaMantia said.

You can watch the full interview with LaMantia in the video below.

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