COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
Visits with loved ones in nursing homes look different these days, particularly if Alzheimer's or dementia is part of the equation.
Families are now allowed to have outdoor visits with their loved ones after access being cut off because of fears around the COVID-19 pandemic.
The restrictions -- meant to protect an elderly population that is most at-risk of the worst effects of COVID-19 -- have been especially hard for families of Alzheimer's and dementia patients. Because of the ways those diseases affect the brain, communication can be much harder if it isn't in person.
Families seeing loved ones with Alzheimer's for the first time since access was prohibited should expect some changes in their loved ones.
"Some may not see any changes, but we are realistic and we know this period of social isolation may have caused some changes to your loved one during the last three months," said Kristen Hilty, a care consultant with the Alzheimer's Association in Springfield, Missouri.
The way visits are conducted will also be different, Hilty said.
"Manage your expectations for the visits, because the visits will look different," she said. "Take a mask with you, understand that the visit will probably be short, and we are asking our family members to expect to not be able to touch your loved one."
Mark Applegate has visited his mother who has Alzheimer's twice since outdoor visits opened up. He said he went 114 days without being able to see his mom in person.
"I used to come after work every day," he said. "I would usually hold her hand, she's a hugger and a hand holder."
Now with the restrictions, Applegate has to stay 6 feet from his mother and can only visit two times a week.
"It's definitely worth it, after the initial ice was broken it was rewarding," he said. "Her face lit up when we first walked in."
Families could see a decrease in their loved ones' physical abilities, a change in their mental state or possibly an increase in depression symptoms or anxiety, Hilty said.
"If you are concerned about any of these symptoms ask the facility if these are symptoms they have noticed and have been tracking or if this is something new for the patient," she said.
Families will be tested before visiting and must stay 6 feet apart and wear a mask.
"Even though this visit may be different and it may not meet your expectations or the hopes you had for seeing your loved one after such a long time, its just as important for you as it is for you loved one," she said.
The visit may not meet expectations, but it is helpful to patients and their families, Hilty said.
Check back for more on this story or watch ABC 17 News at 6.