We were having a conversation recently about “Remember when?” All of the “remember when” items were about life before COVID-19 became a part of our daily vocabulary and our daily lives. As we talked about remembering when, everyone talked about the simple things, the things that we all took for granted and the things that we now miss, that are big holes in all of our lives.
We talked about things like grabbing dinner at a restaurant, spending an afternoon in “retail therapy” at a mall, walking into a grocery store without waiting in line, going to the gym, getting a haircut, the list goes on and on. For me, as for many of us, the biggest hole in my life is not being able to be with our family. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for the technology that makes it possible for us to see one another and have that time together but it is not the same as being able to sit on the floor and play with your grandchildren. And it is not the same as putting your arms around them and the inability to do that is a longing that really feels like a physical ache.
Imagine how much more intense this is if you are an elder living in a residential setting, like a nursing home. You may have been accustomed to seeing your family every day, to having them sit with you for meals or just be there to spend time and visit. Now you have been confined to your room since the middle of March. You can see your family through a virtual, technology-assisted visit or through a window but you can’t hold their hands, they can’t kiss your cheek or put their arms around you.
Elders in residential settings have been barred from communal dining and group activities as well. So being engaged requires tremendous effort on the part of the staff, an effort that most organizations are doing constantly and creatively. But it’s not the same. Eating every meal alone, being imprisoned in your four walls, is this really showing our older adults the respect and dignity that they deserve?
Despite our limitations on activity, we are blessed with the ability to go out, to get fresh air, to take a ride in a car, to walk in a park, many things that give us at least some sense of normalcy and freedom. Our older adults who live in residential settings are being denied even that. I fully understand the desire to keep our elders safe and healthy, there is nothing that is more important than that. But we have to remember that older adults have emotional needs as well, that they should be allowed to live their lives as fully as they can, that quality of life must be a consideration for all of us and that the rights of elders need to be considered as valuable as the rights of everyone else.