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Residents at Green House Living for Sheridan socialize on a patio at the home. The idea of sharing one’s space with strangers may be off-putting at first, but retirement communities, senior co-housing, assisted living and long-term care facilities are great examples of places that can accommodate individual needs and desires.

When the decision to have a family member move into a long-term care facility is made, it is a life-changing decision for all family members. It may be the first time that family members have lived apart or had strangers caring for us.

We are used to face-to-face contact with loved ones. We enjoy our conversations, fun times and interactions with family members. There may also be worries and fears of what our lives ahead will be like. We may also be dealing with new medical issues.

Visits now may be limited or more difficult to work into our daily lives. But, at the same time, those visits are more important than ever, because they can contain life-altering decisions dealing with medical needs, health care and family concerns.

As the COVID-19 hit our country, nursing homes and long-term care facilities were forced to change how their residents were able to visit with family members. At first, no in-person visits were allowed. Many families used creative ways to continue visiting family members. Some used notes on papers that were held up to windows, while others used other non-contact ways to let their loved ones know that they were loved and missed in their families. Unfortunately, many families just did not have the opportunity to visit at all.

As restrictions were eased, the popular thing is to allow screened adults scheduled time with family members. These visits are generally restricted to visits in loved one’s room or another restricted area. The facility will set scheduled visitation times, and requirements will be in place with the understanding that the facility can temporarily suspend visits if any rules or regulations are not workable at the time.

Visitors are given papers containing the visitation procedures that they must read and agree to by signing the paper. By agreeing to these visit procedures, families can again have those face-to-face conversations and discussions.

Some day down the road, these procedures will be lifted, and long-term facilities will have visitations as they did before COVID-19.

I would like to share a few other ideas about family members having the opportunity to communicate and visit with each other. One of the hardest things for elderly people to deal with are the changes that come about in their lives. All of us have daily changes, but most of us deal with change in our daily routine and lives in a positive way. But those in long-term facilities may struggle with change in traumatic ways. They often cannot see the big picture behind the changes and experience fears about what will happen to them.

Without family members present to reassure them they should have no concerns, fear can set in and cause medical issues, such as high blood pressure, lack of sleep, depression or digestive issues.

Therefore, family members need to continue the communication lines with their family members. Even though we are not physically close by, we need to reassure them they are being well cared for and we love them as part of our family.

I would encourage each of us to do what we can to keep the communication lines open to our family members that are living in our long-term care facilities and nursing homes. They need us and we need them.

Wayne Schatz is a member of the AARP Sheridan Community Action Team. 

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