As social distancing measures continue amid the coronavirus pandemic, the rules around visiting residents in aged care facilities or at their homes continue to change.
And with recent deaths recorded among COVID-19 clusters in nursing homes, it’s no surprise there’s some confusion about whether you can visit your parents or grandparents without putting residents and staff at risk.
Visiting Grandparents At An Aged Care Facility
The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee advises a maximum of two visitors (including family, close friends or professional service providers) one time per day.
The 1.5-metre social distancing rules should be in effect where possible, and visits should be short in duration.
In order to protect the health and safety of other residents, you must visit the resident’s room, outdoors or another designated noncommunal area.
As of May 1, you must be vaccinated against influenza in order to visit.
Who Isn’t Allowed To Visit An Aged Care Home
You can’t visit an aged care facility if you’ve returned from overseas in the last 14 days or been in contacted with a confirmed COVID-19 patient in the last 14 days. This also applies to aged care workers.
If you have fever or acute respiratory infection symptoms, such as a cough, sore throat, runny nose or shortness of breath, you should also refrain from going to a nursing home.
Children age 16 or under can visit by exception only, “as they are generally unable to comply with hygiene measures.”
School visits are not permitted.
Visiting Grandparents Who Still Live At Home
From Friday in New South Wales, two adults at a time will be allowed to visit other households, Premier Gladys Berejiklian confirmed.
The premier pointed out that the two visiting adults can bring as many children with them as needed ― as long as the group is well.
“I’ve used the word ‘adults’ to say obviously if you have young children, it’s OK to take them with you. But a maximum of two adults will be able to visit anybody else,” she said.
“I do want to stress that if you’re visiting someone who is over 70 years of age, or someone with a comorbidity, you have to practice really good social distancing. If you have the mildest sniffle, do not go and visit anybody.
“If you’re over 70, we still recommend that you keep leaving home to a minimum, but if you do feel that you need to go and visit someone in their home, please make sure that similarly, you ask questions about making sure that everybody is well, making sure that everybody practices good social distancing.”
Could Visiting Help Your Grandparents’ Mental Health?
Last week Prime Minister Scott Morrison encouraged people to visit their loved ones after the above rules attracted some pushback from the aged care sector. Some facilities tightened their visitation restrictions even further due to health and safety concerns for residents and staff.
The PM said the government’s guidelines don’t intend to “shut people off or to lock them away in their rooms.”
“We are very concerned about the impact of restrictions that had been put in place in aged care facilities over and above what was recommended by the National Cabinet,” the PM said. “[It] is not good for their well-being, [it] is not good for their health.”
Dementia Australia’s CEO Maree McCabe also said it’s important for elderly residents, including those with dementia, to stay connected with family.
“We are all physically isolating, but it does not mean we have to feel socially isolated,” she said in a statement.
“For people living in residential aged care we encourage staff to involve families wherever they can to actively plan for different forms of engagement and methods of communication.”
According to Dr Adrienne Withall, an expert in dementia at the University of New South Wales, “meaningful contact” can help older people’s mental health.
“We do know that social networks are an important determinant of older people’s well-being,” Withall said. “And it is good to remember that for older people in aged care facilities, this includes relationships not just with family but also with fellow residents and staff members.”
She added that “even before COVID-19, loneliness and social isolation had been flagged as a major public health threat, so I think it is safe to say that older people might be experiencing increased levels of anxiety and depression.”
Given the contagious nature of COVID-19, she recommended common sense be exercised when deciding whether to make an aged care home visit.
“There is certainly tension at the moment between wanting to protect the lives of older people yet support their well-being.
“Whilst I would always usually advocate for family to visit often, I think people have to be very honest about the risks they may pose to residents in aged care and any illness they may bring home with them.”
How To Connect With Your Loved One If You Can’t Visit
With some aged care facilities banning all visitors, Carers Australia recommends on its website that “you should contact residential facilities to establish what conditions they have put in place for visitors before you visit.”
“Some aged care homes have taken further steps and are banning visitors altogether but have committed to providing video-conferencing opportunities,” it states.
“There are still many ways that families continue to be included, even if they are not visiting in person as often,” said Dementia Australia’s McCabe.
These include arranged video calls, phone and WhatsApp messaging, plus passing on photos for staff to share with residents or writing a letter.
“Some residential care units won’t have access to Wi-Fi for video calls but telephone calls are just as good,” said Withall.
“Any way of making a meaningful connection between family members will boost mood and well-being. Families can even have a roster system to share the phone calls around.
“We delivered a care package to my parents at Easter that included letters from their grandchildren and photos. There are simple things that people can do to make older people still feel connected to their family. Every little bit helps.”
Known Aged Care Home COVID-19 Clusters
There have been six COVID-19 related deaths at Dorothy Henderson Lodge in Sydney’s Macquarie Park. The residents included a 90-year-old man, 95-year-old woman, 91-year-old woman, 82-year-old resident and two whose details were not disclosed to the public.
As of Wednesday, there were 21 confirmed cases at the facility, including 16 residents and five employees.
Fifteen residents at Newmarch House in western Sydney have also died, including an 89-year-old woman, 83-year-old man, 96-year-old woman, another woman in her 90s and one in her 70s, and two men in their 90s.
Thirty-seven residents and 26 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19, and many staff members are self-isolating for 14 days.
These two particular facilities have been in shutdown, with restricted visitation for family and relatives.