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COVID-19 Restrictions In Long-Term Care Homes: “His dementia is getting worse”

Elderly man in wheelchair has socially distanced visit with family amid COVID-19 restrictions

By Mia Hildebrandt

Since the threat of COVID-19 has forced long-term care homes to enact restrictions on visitations, Justina Bergmann has noticed a decline in her husband Rudy Pankratz’s mental capacity.

“His dementia has really sped up and I’ve heard other people say the same thing about their loved ones,” she said.

Justina Bergmann lives in her home in Winnipeg while her husband, Rudy Pankratz, is in a personal care home.

Elderly couple smile stand in field of flowers
Justina Bergmann and her husband Rudy Pankratz. | Photo via Mia Hildebrandt

Bergmann has been visiting her husband through the window of his room in the care home. They would speak on the phone, but she says it’s not nearly the same as being able to visit face-to-face.

Beginning this week the care home has begun to allow visits through the fence where residents are positioned six feet from the fence and family and friends can visit from outside.

“It’s different getting to be outside especially for him to get outside because he hasn’t been since Christmas,” siad Bergmann.

“Seniors are the most vulnerable people in this situation,” said Bergmann, “They don’t understand why we’re not there and they can’t express themselves but they know they’re frustrated.”

Bergmann says she explains to him almost every day what the virus is and explains the reason why he hasn’t had visitors.

“It’s been a very, very difficult journey that we have no control over,” said Bergmann. Since the lockdown began in Manitoba in mid-March, no one has been allowed inside the personal care home to visit their loved ones.

“We’re lucky because we can still talk on the phone. I know exactly how he feels physically and mentally. For people who couldn’t do that, I don’t know how they would have coped.”

Bergmann expressed her worries about the mental health of her husband as well as the other residents who haven’t had social interaction for the past few months.

“The mental goes with the physical, and so just protecting the physical part but not being able to protect the mental part has been very difficult,” said Bergmann.

Elderly man in wheelchair has socially distanced visit with family amid COVID-19 restrictions
Rudy Pankratz has a socially distanced visit with his family. | Photo via Mia Hildebrandt

The social aspect in the lives of the people living in personal care homes comes from their families, but that responsibility has fallen onto the nurses.

“His dementia is getting worse. I think he understood at the beginning but he no longer does,” said Bergmann.

Bergmann says she hopes soon that the home will open up as other homes and hospitals are now allowing visitors even if she is only allowed to see Pankratz outside in the courtyard.

Bergmann continues to visit through the fence and talk over the phone as much as possible while she waits for the day she can finally wrap her husband in a highly anticipated embrace.

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