British Columbia

Lonely, bored, and anxious: One senior's life inside a locked-down retirement home

Visits to long-term care homes and some retirement homes across B.C. have been restricted due to the COVID-19 pandemic — and one senior says life inside is very challenging.

Citing new outbreaks, Health Minister Adrian Dix says restrictions must continue for now

Victoria's Noel Schacter, who moved into a retirement home with his wife in December 2019, says life in his locked-down facility has been very challenging. (Richard Lyons/Shutterstock)

In December 2019, just a few months before the pandemic, Victoria's Noel Schacter moved into a retirement home with his wife. 

It had been a difficult decision borne out of necessity, after Schacter suffered a bout of cancer and his wife Alzheimer's had progressed to the point where it became too difficult for him to manage, even with respite care. 

The facility they moved in to was comfortable. There were kind staff, hot meals, housekeeping and laundry services. Most importantly, the facility allowed the couple to bring their beloved dog with them. 

But the residence also has patients in care, and as the pandemic struck B.C., restrictions were imposed. The couple has been unable to leave their residence for two months, unable to host visitors, unable to get respite care, and — being unable to go outside — they have had to send their dog to stay with friends.

"Parts of my day, I'm pretty desperate. Parts of my day, I'm OK," Schacter said via phone to host Gregor Craigie on CBC's On The Island. 

His wife, who had suffered from various medical issues earlier in the year leading to greater cognitive decline, doesn't recognize Schacter anymore. 

The disappearance of her one solace and attachment, their dog, has also been very challenging.

"People with Alzheimer's, their lives shrink considerably. They don't have the kind of friends that they used to have. Our social circle has shrunk. It's not because people are unkind, it's just because we're not able to interact in the same way."

Pierre Boule and his brother Sylvain look in a window to see their 96-year-old mother, Georgette Larame, at a seniors' long-term care centre in Montreal on April 16. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

The couple isn't alone. Schacter says many of his fellow residents are suffering. 

"They're lonely. They're bored. They're anxious and I think some of them are actually depressed," he said. 

Schacter says that as B.C. begins to open up, it would make a big difference if seniors like him could go outside. 

"We can physically distance. We don't have to go shopping. We don't have to go to food stores and restaurants and so on," he said.

"Those of us who are in these sorts of facilities really need to have our voices heard."

A 'balancing act'

It will be a "balancing act" to protect seniors from COVID-19 and give them space to move out, says B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie.

"We know how it catastrophic [COVID-19] can be if it gets into a setting like a care home or a retirement residence," Mackenzie said.

"We've got to balance that, also as Noel has talked about, the need for some freedoms and some ability to interact with the world at large as we move into the new normal."

That might not be any time soon. 

On Thursday, Health Minister Adrian Dix, while expressing empathy for seniors like Schacter, said restrictions at long-term and acute care facilities must continue. As of Friday, there were 21 active COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term and acute care sites in British Columbia.

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca

With files from On The Island, All Points West

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