With apologies to the bestselling book “Love in the Time of Cholera,” senior living in the time of COVID-19 has raised many questions about our expectations of care for the elderly.

We initially thought only seniors were at high risk for COVID-19. We now know it takes its toll on young and old alike. But the fact remains that seniors are highly vulnerable to serious complications when exposed to the virus.

Across America, independent living retirement communities, assisted living facilities, memory care centers and skilled nursing facilities are on lockdown. Only essential workers, medical professionals and end-of-life counselors have access to these senior communities. The images of family members unable to hug or hold their elderly parents and grandparents are heartbreaking.

Senior living in the time of COVID-19 has brought us face to face with how we view caregiving for the elderly.

Should You Bring Your Elderly Parent Home?

Many family members with loved ones in senior communities may be asking themselves:  Should we bring mom (or dad) home? Would they be safer at home with us?

Not necessarily.

In a recent article in McKnight’s Senior Living, the National Center for Assisted Living said that although families want to do what is best for their loved ones, moving someone out of an assisted living community or nursing home “could really be doing your loved one more harm than good.” The prevalence of the “unseen enemy” in the greater community can put older people at considerable risk.

“For assisted living residents specifically, while the CDC does not recommend moving residents, that’s something that family members need to work out with their loved one’s community. Every assisted living resident is different, so they may be a bit more independent than nursing home residents,” NCAL said in a statement. “But usually, if they came to assisted living, it’s because they had needs that could not be met in the home. Also, for assisted living residents living with dementia, taking them out of their routine is very disruptive to their health and well-being.”

But in a recent AARP article, one senior advocate took a different stance.

“We are deeply concerned that residents are cut off from loved ones and vice versa,” Richard J. Mollot, executive director of the Long-Term Care Community Coalition in New York City. “We know that, in addition to providing company, love and a friendly face, families provide vital monitoring and often essential care.” 

Stepping in as Caregiver

Are you prepared to provide care at all times as a solo caregiver? Ask yourself these five questions before you commit.

Keep in mind that your loved one’s health, including his or her mobility, may have changed considerably since they first moved to the retirement community. Unless you see them on a regular basis, this could come as a shock.

Family Impact

How will the daily presence of your loved one impact the overall dynamics of your family? Will adjustments need to be made in terms of sleeping space, bathroom schedules, meal preparation and other daily activities? What about physical adjustments to your home? Will you need to build ramps or widen doorways to accommodate a wheelchair?

From an emotional standpoint, you should consider the feelings of the senior you’d like to bring home. Maybe they’re concerned about disrupting your family and don’t want to feel like a burden. They could also be afraid of losing their privacy and dignity.

And what about the feelings of other members in the family, especially young people? They may adore their grandparent, but living with them 24/7 can be an entirely different matter.

As far as caregiving goes, are you prepared to react quickly if your parent exhibits COVID-19 symptoms? Do you have access to enough personal protective equipment for you and the rest of your family?

What Senior Communities Are Doing to Contain COVID-19

Senior communities nationwide are doing their best to contain the spread of COVID-19 and keep their residents safe. In almost all instances, staff members and essential visitors are screened and their temperatures taken before they enter their community. In general, senior living communities are well-stocked with PPE.

Many have closed their dining rooms and are delivering meals to residents’ doors. Fitness centers, pools, auditoriums and libraries are closed. Magazines, newspapers, puzzles and other “high touch” items found in common areas have been removed. Most importantly, residents are strongly encouraged to self-isolate and maintain the minimum six feet of social distancing.

After the Pandemic

Finally, think about the future after the pandemic has eased up. Will your parent go back to the assisted living, skilled nursing or memory care community or continue to live with you? In other words, what is your end game? Keep in mind that your loved one’s spot at the community may not be available when they are ready to return.

Senior living in the time of COVID-19 has forced most of us to make some very difficult decisions over the last few weeks. And the decision to bring your family member home to live with you is far from easy.

The choice of leaving your loved one at their community or bringing them home is complicated. You’ll need to consider the wishes of your elderly parent and your other family members. Your doctor’s opinion and recommendations from management at the senior community are also critical. The staff at the senior community may actually know your loved one best since they’ve been responsible for their care on a daily basis.

Only you know the right decision for all concerned. Whatever you decide, be at peace with it and don’t look back. Know that you made the best decision you could based on the information you had at the time.

Best wishes and may we all return to “normal” soon – no matter when and no matter what the new normal is.