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7 months into coronavirus, families and nursing home patients struggle
COVID-19 forces anxiety, re-evaluation
Published Sunday, October 11, 2020 11:00 am
by Molly Weisner | Media Hub

A worker at a nursing home sanitizes a handrail.

Weekends were always for Larry.

Michelle Goyeau, 52, spent the week working full-time as a public health social worker in the mountains of North Carolina. At home, she helped her 17-year-old son with college applications and online school.

But on Saturday, March 14, Goyeau jumped in the car – as she often did on weekends – to visit her husband.

Larry is 64 years old and in a memory care facility in Asheville. He has early onset Alzheimer’s disease, which began for him around the age Michelle is now.

When Goyeau walked into her husband’s facility, she was told it would be the last time she could see him because of coronavirus restrictions.

“None of us really knew where this was going,” she said.

So, she set up FaceTime visits with Larry and played the familiar Bob Dylan tracks on his iPod to make up for the screen between them.

March emptied into April, which blurred into May and dragged on to June. Michelle’s virtual visits “seemed OK,” until she was told Larry was behaving differently.

By August, he was crying and yelling, seeming more frustrated than he had been months before. She scheduled a FaceTime visit to see him.

For families like Goyeau’s, time is not on their side. As long-term care facilities approach seven months of lockdown, families are noticing major declines in the physical and mental health of their loved ones who have been quarantined inside.

“It was such a dramatic difference,” Goyeau said.

She paused, taking labored breaths, and began retelling the day she saw her husband through an unfeeling video screen.

When he was wheeled into the frame, Larry was slumped over in his chair, sedated.

This was the man who loved being active outdoors, paddling or riding his bike. He was most comfortable in jeans, a fleece jacket and his hiking boots. The only time Larry ever wore a tie was at a wedding or funeral, Goyeau said.

But when she saw him over FaceTime, he was disheveled and listless. Wanting to see him in-person, Michelle then scheduled a window visit at his facility, the first since March.
She noticed, almost blithely and in the way only a wife could, that he needed a haircut. But she couldn’t reach out and take care of him.

“I don’t know if he’s giving up,” Goyeau said, her voice faltering. “I’m not there, you know? And I – don’t know what he’s feeling.”

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services announced Monday that indoor visits are permitted in certain long-term care facilities with no recent outbreaks. But for Goyeau and others, this update comes too late for family members who have declined since March.

Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, is a progressive and irreversible neurological condition. As it advances, toxic changes in the brain create an environment where brain cells cannot communicate with each other. A few weeks’ time may not make a significant difference in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, but months can.

Larry smiled when she spoke to him, but Michelle realized in the months that had passed since March, time and isolation made her husband worse.


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