BC’s Senior’s Advocate says visitor restrictions at Long Term Care Homes and Assisted Living facilities have been a huge burden for residents and their families.

Isobel MacKenzie has completed a province-wide study on the impact of visitor restrictions that were imposed on those facilities after the COVID-19 pandemic began.

In the report titled Staying Apart to Stay Safe, MacKenzie says seniors in long-term care and assisted living suffered because of the lack of family visits and social interaction.

It was found that after years of relative stability, during the visitor restrictions the rate of antipsychotic drug use in long-term care homes increased seven percent.

There were also trends of unintended weight loss and the worsening of moods among residents.

BC’s Senior’s Advocate says there needs to be a balance between the risk posed by COVID-19 for the elderly and the impacts on health, happiness, and quality of life that arise from being separated from family and friends.

MacKenzie says a large majority of residents and families say the current visitor restrictions are not working for them, and some go as far as to call them inhumane.

She recommends the residents be given the opportunity to identify an essential care partner who can visit frequently and provide supports and services.

Such support is considered essential to the health and emotional well-being of long-term care home and assisted living residents.

Another of MacKenzie’s recommendations is for residents and their families to be embedded in decisions on long-term care and assisted living in British Columbia.

In the summary of her report, MacKenzie says 151 residents of LTC/AL have died from COVID-19 to date. During this same time period, however, more than 4,500 residents have died from illnesses or conditions other than COVID-19. In their final months, weeks, and days, most of these residents were not able to spend time with those they loved the most.

The Seniors Advocate says that no single issue has dominated the phone calls, emails, and letters we have received here at the Office of the Seniors Advocate as that of the current visit restrictions.

“The stories from families that have been separated, some for over six months, are nothing short of heartbreaking.”

According to MacKenzie, this is one of the most challenging issues we face, and finding the right balance is difficult, but is the right thing to do so as to bring joy, comfort, and an enhanced quality of life to seniors.

The full text of her statement and report are available at Seniors Advocate’s website.