'We don't see an end in sight': Long-term care residents and family members suffer from ongoing lockdown

The decision to find a long-term care facility for her spouse was a hard decision for Janice McLean.

'We're struggling more than ever,' says Sask. long-term care resident

On Tuesday the Saskatchewan government announced that visits to long-term care facilities and personal care homes will be suspended starting November 19, 2020. Exceptions are people visiting for compassionate reasons. (PHOTO © AKIYOKO/123RF)

The decision to find a long-term care facility for her spouse was hard for Janice McLean.

Her husband was just 69 years old when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Two years later the family knew he needed 24/7 care, she said.

What nobody expected was that they would all be shut-off from his life in 2020.

"No one could have predicted that," said McLean.

"You start kind of feeling guilty and wondering if … you made the right decision."

Visitation to long-term care facilities suspended again

The Saskatchewan government announced new COVID-19 measures on Tuesday, including the suspension of visits to all long-term care facilities or personal care homes in the province. Exceptions are for compassionate reasons.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) already restricted visits to long-term care homes in Saskatoon last month. This also affected McLean who regularly visited her husband during the summer with their family.

"He has been in care for 16 months," she said.

"Out of that only six months has been what I would term the visitation that we would have expected, where you can just, you know, go in at any time and find your spouse or your loved-one…. The other 10 months have either been in complete lockdown or under very strict visiting guidelines." 

Effects on senior residents and their families

The 69-year-old said it's difficult to know how much the COVID-19 restrictions affect her husband because he isn't able to talk about it. Despite that she still notices the differences between personal visits and video calls.

He seemed to respond to the in-person family visits "as best [as] he could." Now he can't really communicate with her during the Facetime calls, she said.

"To me he doesn't look like he looked during the outdoor visits," said McLean.

"He just probably feels more confined and perhaps wonders why he's not seeing familiar faces."

In a way you lose your spouse with Alzheimer's, she said, but not being able to physically see him makes everything even tougher. 

'We don't see an end in sight'

Despite all, McLean is glad her spouse receives "excellent care" at the nursing home, she said, with staff taking all the precautions they can.

She is concerned, however, how much longer this situation will continue. 

Even when visitations are allowed again, they probably will remain restricted for some time, she said.

"We don't see an end in sight," said McLean.

"It's kind of depressing."

Mental health breakdown due to lockdown

The announced government restrictions to protect residents of long-term and personal care homes are already in place in Regina.

The SHA limited visits to those facilities "to compassionate reasons only" on Nov. 13, 2020. The limitations also affected people living at the Wascana Rehabilitation Centre. 

Long-term resident Chelsea Dreher has been suffering from the COVID-19 restrictions for a while. She eventually had a mental breakdown because of the isolation and loneliness.

Chelsea Dreher, right, and her mom Michelle. (Submitted by Chelsea Dreher)

While she is currently allowed to leave the building, she constantly worries about another complete lockdown without her being able to visit her family, especially during the Christmas season.

"I'm terrified of that happening," said Dreher. 

"Not being able to go anywhere, even in the building, like to get a coffee or anything like that, you just get so depressed."

'We're struggling more than ever'

The Regina woman has cerebral palsy and has lived at Wascana Rehabilitation Centre for almost nine years.

She gets angry when people refuse to wear masks, she said.

"People that live here, we're reliant on the general public," said Dreher.

"We're struggling more than ever."

Being immunocompromised doesn't mean she and others are invisible, she said

"I want people to think of that when they make these restrictions."

McLean also said it's vulnerable people and their families who get punished for others not following the rules. 

"We're not the ones who were at fault," she said.

This story was done thanks to our online COVID-19 questionnaire. CBC Saskatchewan wants to hear how the pandemic has impacted you. Share your story.