Not being able to spend time with family and friends is the hardest part of lockdown for our elderly, and studies show the consequences can be severe. JAKE KENNY reports.

For Jim Orman, living in an elderly care facility on alert level 4 is not a “naughty corner”.

While many residents live comfortably during the lockdown, studies show that older people who are lonely are more likely to develop severe physical and mental health problems such as strokes, heart problems, and dementia.

Many of New Zealand’s elderly care facilities are thriving social centers with large groups of friends, clubs, games, and activities to participate in. During the closure, residents are limited to their own units and are only allowed to leave the house for essential reasons and for slight movement.

Orman was part of a social group in his village known as “The Naughty Corner” – a group known for being “as close to the bar as possible” during happy hour. He missed his friends and family but said he was lucky to have his wife by his side while others weren’t so lucky.

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Orman and his wife Lorraine live in the Ngaio Marsh elderly village in Papanui, Christchurch.

The village was usually a social activity beehive, but residents missed that during the lockdown, Lorraine Orman said.

“We keep each other company, but others don’t and you start to miss your family.”

Meeting a family member at the gate for a socially distant conversation was an option and was adopted by a Ngaio Marsh resident who turned 90 since New Zealand was locked down again last week.

Gardeners are often a friendly face to chat with and cannot enter senior citizens' villages on alert level 4.  (File photo)

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Gardeners are often a friendly face to chat with and cannot enter senior citizens’ villages on alert level 4. (File photo)

However, most of the residents did not see their families.

To combat the loneliness caused by isolation, senior citizens’ villages and rest homes across the country have set up locked down activities, including socially distant music chairs, zoom singing, and customized birthday parties to keep residents socially active.

At the Summerset Avonhead senior village in Christchurch, staff were doing everything they could to keep residents safe, resident Ian Cooke said.

“You can leave friends on the outside, but you also gain a lot inside … everyone takes care of each other.”

Ian Cooke says everyone will look out for each other during the lockdown.

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Ian Cooke says everyone will look out for each other during the lockdown.

The biggest difference in the village during the lockdown was not being able to access facilities like the gym and library, Cooke said.

Bupa Northhaven Nursing Home Resident Thelma Sanders turned 94 last Saturday during lockdown.

She celebrated with her favorite word search puzzle, followed by some one-on-one activities with staff who did their best to make her day special.

Sanders had an “exciting” birthday despite being banned and said she was “pretty spoiled” by the staff and her roommates.

She doesn’t have many relatives, so the no-visit rule doesn’t affect her, she said.

Thelma Sanders, 94, is celebrating a special lockdown birthday on August 21 with her favorite word search puzzle and fun activities.

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Thelma Sanders, 94, is celebrating a special lockdown birthday on August 21 with her favorite word search puzzle and fun activities.

District health officials across the country have also implemented no-visit policies in all hospitals, with exceptions made only for compassionate reasons. Women in work are entitled to an accompanying person, a parent or a caregiver can come with a child and people with disabilities are allowed to have an accompanying person.

“Our employees are always compassionate to people who end their lives wanting to spend time with people, and in these circumstances we are able to make well-organized exceptions,” said Tracey Maisey, emergency officer for the Canterbury Health Department.

A 2017 New Zealand study of 72,000 elderly people found that 21 percent of those over 65 were lonely.

Locking Alert 4 would make that feeling worse for people who were already feeling lonely, said Simon Templeton, CEO of Age Concern Canterbury.

Simon Templeton, CEO of Age Concern Canterbury, says chronic loneliness is a serious problem for our elderly, and lockdowns only make it worse.

Stacy Knappen / Stuff

Simon Templeton, CEO of Age Concern Canterbury, says chronic loneliness is a serious problem for our elderly, and lockdowns only make it worse.

“We see a lot of chronic loneliness in our elderly that lies deeper [than common loneliness] and has real implications for mental and physical health, ”he said.

A 2018 US study found that loneliness increased the risk of dementia by 40 percent. Templeton said the risk of stroke and heart also increased for those who often felt lonely or had little daily social contact.

Ryman Healthcare, New Zealand’s largest retirement home operator, has closed all of its villages to visitors on alert level 4, with the sole exception of residents in palliative care or terminal care.

Zoom calls and an activity program continued inside bubbles to keep everyone entertained, said Ryman spokesman David King.

Activities included karaoke, games, and quizzes.

The student volunteer army had been recruited to shop for the residents.

“Our team delivers everything the residents need and they have 24/7 help on hand,” said King.

Abigail Dougherty / stuff

Visual journalist Abigail Dougherty walks you through one of the pop-up vaccination centers to show you what it’s like to be stung during lockdown.

Scott Scoular, CEO of Summerset, said the safety of residents is a top priority, but it is also “extremely important to keep them happy and engaged”.

Online conversation sessions for residents, the first of which was a performance by musician Shane McAlister, kicked off this week.

The next sessions included a quiz night and a drink and snack party.

“We held a number of similar events during the nationwide lockdown last year and residents told us this helped keep them connected and involved while being safe,” Scoular said.

Summerset staff Anne Walker and Grace Hickland delivered 500 daffodils to residents of the village of Avonhead as a fundraiser for the Cancer Society.

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Summerset staff Anne Walker and Grace Hickland delivered 500 daffodils to residents of the village of Avonhead as a fundraiser for the Cancer Society.

A mini Olympics, pampering session, and music bingo were examples of safe lockdown activities held at Bupa’s rest homes.

Residents could use Zoom or Skype to keep in touch with relatives, and local activities were “ramped up,” said national operations director Sue McLeod.

Villagers living in their own unit could be assigned a bubble buddy to be in touch with, and residents received regular calls to check them out.

Loneliness and depression are a “massive problem” for the elderly and it is humiliating to see staff go out of their way to keep residents company, McLeod said.

The visiting rules for elderly care facilities are the same at warning level 3 as at level 4.

In hospitals, visitors without suspicion of Covid-19 are admitted individually once a day during level 3. The number of visitors allowed per patient per day depends on where they are. Visitors should inquire about their DHB first.

Helpful contacts when you’re feeling lonely:

  • Call Age Concern’s Accredited Visiting Service on 0800 803 344. at
  • Visit loneliness.org.nz for helpful advice