By Mary E. Worstell, MPH, Adult Daughter, Caregiver, Member of the Aging and Vision Loss National Coalition, and Retired HHS Senior Advisor
My mother is 97 and has severe hearing and vision loss. I have seen her world shrink as she has almost completely stopped reading, which was her passion, and her hearing has worsened to needing very loud, constant repetition. She is unable to talk at length on her special phone for hearing impaired individuals. Nevertheless, my mom has GREAT spirit, and we find humor where we can, and persevere through all.
Mom, who continues to live independently, resides in a continuous care community, which provides assisted living and skilled nursing when needed. The community, however, offers very limited services to adults with vision and hearing loss. Now the community is closed to outside visitors due to COVID-19. Due to her dual-sensory impairment, she feels much more disconnected, and I see elements of depression creeping in. I know she is safe, but I worry about her. Mom is a very social person.
So, here are some things my family does to help her to stay connected to the outside world and us.
My mother is thrilled to get calls from anyone. The different conversations keep her interested in life and feeling connected to the outside world. My siblings and I call her every day, though it works better if she initiates calls to us because she can’t hear the phone ring and may not see the lights flashing either! Her grandchildren also call, and I’ve reached out to her nephew and cousin to do the same. The calls can be personal stories, which she loves (a giggle is always good) and world news. Yes, this can be depressing, but she has a keen mind and wants to know what is going on in the world.
Letters and Pictures
Luckily, Mom can get her mail, so I make sure that she is supplied with many letters and pictures of family and loved ones. She uses her hand magnifier to peruse each. With her assisted listening device, she has asked the person who delivers her meals to also read her a card. It takes a community, but it works!
My mother needs to get out of her apartment, so she walks the halls and sits outside when the weather permits. Walking is good for her as long as she remembers to keep the requisite 6 ft. between her and others, doesn’t touch anything she doesn’t have to, and washes her hands every time she returns to her apartment.
Visits from a Distance
I recently observed another novel way to connect. An adult child sat outside his father’s window at the assisted living facility and chatted by phone while they observed each other. They could have had lunch together or even played a game, at a safe distance. Sadly, I can’t do this with mom because of her hearing deficit, but I was able to stand outside her facility and wave to her through the window at the front entrance. We laughed as we waved at each other and that made her day!
My mom can’t use an IPad, but for others with vision loss under lockdown in an assisted living facility or nursing home, this may be an added resource to connect with family and friends, and even stay connected to their worship community. Zoom, FaceTime, and Facebook Live are popular ways for virtually connecting with your family and community. Everything from worship services to book clubs are being held virtually via these apps.
It takes thinking creatively about how we can see each other safely, and remembering that social isolation is real and we need to protect against loneliness as much as we need to protect ourselves against the virus.
Check out additional resources on coping with vision loss during the COVID-19 crisis.