Liliana van Dyck, 85, says goodbye to her son Marc at the end of his visit at the Les Jardin D’astrid rest home for elderly people in Maurage, Belgium, on Wednesday.     AP
Liliana van Dyck, 85, says goodbye to her son Marc at the end of his visit at the Les Jardin D’astrid rest home for elderly people in Maurage, Belgium, on Wednesday. AP

How the lockdown has left the eldery at Gauteng old age homes lonelier than ever before

By Karishma Dipa Time of article published May 23, 2020

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South Africans might be experiencing more freedom as Covid-19 restrictions are being eased, but scores of senior citizens at old age homes across Gauteng remain in a full lockdown.

While this has been done to protect the elderly, who are most at risk of dying from the virus, many of the old age homes The Saturday Star spoke to this week say the months their residents have spent away from their loved ones is taking a toll on their emotional state.

“They are constantly going through different emotional stages,” Naomi van der Westhuizen at the Johannesburg Coronation Foundation in South Rand says.

“One minute they are crying, then they are upset because they can’t leave or see their families, and not everyone understands what is happening with this pandemic,” she said.

Daniel von Weilligh, the head of administration at the Emmanuel Old Age home, agreed that while all those at the Krugersdorp premises were free from the coronavirus, their residents longed to see their loved ones.

“Mother’s Day was particularly difficult,” he said.

“We normally have about six to seven tables for Mother’s Day lunch but this was obviously not the case this year.

“They really want to see their families.”

Pieter Smit, the manager at the Tuiste vir Bejaardes in Nigel, said morale among those at the care home was low.

“It’s difficult for them to not see their loved ones or go out, even if some of them only went out for little outings every once in a while,” he said.

But while seeing to the emotional needs of their senior citizen residents is important, preventing the arrival of the virus at their premise is priority.

None of the facilities The Saturday Star spoke to had confirmed cases of the coronavirus.

They said it was down to implementing a range of stringent preventative measures.

“We are operating as if it is still a complete lockdown,” said Von Weilligh.

He said the provincial Department of Health tested 220 residents and staff members recently.

All the test results came back negative.

He said the measure taken to keep their at-risk elderly residents safe included no more than four people being together at a time and even then, they were required to be a significant distance apart, in compliance with physical distancing measures.

Smit said his Nigel facility also had no confirmed Covid-19 cases.

That had been achieved by also operating under a full lockdown mentality.

“None of our residents are permitted to leave and they can’t have visitors for the foreseeable future.

“We continuously monitor their health as well as that of our staff who are screened every time they enter our premises.”

Marian House in Boksburg has also had no coronavirus cases and it follows similar preventative measures.

It has some staff spending a week at the facility to reduce the need for public transport.

“This limits us getting any infections,” sister Rebecca Malefetse said.

She said a company was employed to deep clean the facility, while activities such as prayer meetings were cancelled and residents were mostly restricted to their rooms.

Friendship Haven Old Age Home in Randfontein is also operating under full lockdown measures, with a ban on visitation, leaving the facility open only to medical emergencies and essential workers, who are screened before they are allowed to enter.

This week, the Department of Health screened and tested those at the Johannesburg west old age home, among them the 320 or so elderly residents.

“For all practical purposes, we are in a full lockdown,” said chief operating officer sister Helea Eilers.

“We are thankful that they are all co-operating with us.

“It is a big job but we are determined to keep them safe and healthy,” she said.

Meanwhile, the South African Association of Homes for the Aged said Gauteng old age homes were doing well to prevent their elderly residents from contracting the coronavirus.

“There have been very few cases at old age homes in Gauteng,” the organisation’s national president Liana Grobler said.

She said the facilities in the province went into lockdown weeks before the rest of the country.

This is in contrast to the Western Cape, which Grobler said had around 13 homes in Cape Town that were badly affected.

She said there had been about seven senior citizens from old age homes in Gauteng who had contracted Covid-19.

Quick action was taken to prevent it from spreading to the rest of the facilities.

“These patients did not return to the home, so the spread of the virus was contained.”

But while keeping their elderly residents free from Covid-19 is a priority for old age homes, an increasing amount of attention is being spent on boosting morale at these facilities.

“The very bad effect on the elderly is them being bored and missing their relatives,” said Grobler.

“They are getting more and more depressed.”

Gauteng old age homes, such as the Tuiste vir Bejaardes in Nigel, are trying to address the issues by teaching their elderly residents to embrace technology.

“We have enlarged our main hall and turned it into a lounge area with a big screen that is big enough to adhere to social distancing requirements,” said Smit.

“Every day we screen a different movie for our residents in this area.

“It has made a big difference for our residents who really seem to enjoy and appreciate this.”

Van der Westhuizen said their Johannesburg south facility also had a big screen which was used for video calls.

“We have a big screen up for Skype sessions which we facilitate and book sessions for our elderly residents who don’t all know how to use technology. Not all of them have a smartphone.”

She said residents who had their own cars were allowed to go out once every second week to buy their groceries while others could do so using a bus every fortnight.

Van der Westhuizen said the bus transported only 10 people at a time. Residents were given points on how to remain safe while out.

“We prepare them before they go to the shops by showing them pictures of how people are social distancing, wearing masks and tell them that the workers will wear protective gear.”

She said residents were also allowed to spend time gardening in pairs, and their families were allowed to drop off care packages but could not enter the premises.

“Some nursing staff also sleep at the facility to limit time spent on public transport,” said Van der Westhuizen.

Other measures widely being implemented at old age homes across the province include regular visits by social workers to give distressed elderly residents a trained professional in which they could confide.

“Our residents are worried when they see the cases increase every day, but they can see we are doing the right thing and we are working hard to protect them and that all these restrictions are only for their own safety,” said Eilers.

Grobler said specialised activities during lockdown for the elderly in old age homes could lift their spirits.

“Things like structured exercises and ways to communicate with their families would really help them,” she said.

The Gauteng Department for Social Development was unavailable for comment.

The Saturday Star

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