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Missourians finding ways to connect with senior loved ones during pandemic

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Laura Kitzi and her mother, Lorane Kinney, like to share.

Whether it’s a conversation about exciting news, a trip to Midway Antique Mall or an episode of “The Walking Dead,” Kitzi enjoys these things best when she is with her mom. But this routine has hit a COVID-19 roadblock.

Kitzi is one of many Missouri residents navigating the realities of staying in touch with an elderly loved one during the pandemic, The Columbia Missourian reported.

Between social distancing and the greater vulnerability of the elderly to contracting the virus, many must cope with seeing each other less and less.

As stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders are being relaxed around the country, the elderly still must take extra precautions. Many people will need to continue to keep their distance from their elderly loved ones, even as the infections decline.

Kitzi and 70-year-old Kinney are no exception. They had to make hard decisions to keep each other healthy.

Kinney usually spends winters in a retirement community in Arizona and returns in summer to live with her daughter in Columbia.

With the uncertainty surrounding the virus, Kitzi and her mother grappled with whether it was smart for her to return.

“We went back and forth a hundred different ways about what was the best decision to make,” Kitzi said. “It just felt like a no-win.”

Kitzi and her mother had to weigh the benefits of being close to each other for emotional support and, in case one of them fell ill, physical support against the risks of potential exposure on the journey to Missouri. Kinney has health issues that could make her recovery harder if she caught the virus. With her primary care physician in Columbia, the choice was complicated.

“I really felt like it was going to be important for her to make the decision,” Kitzi said. “I was wanting to support her and try and be the bright spot in whatever hard decision she made.”

The pair and Kinney’s physician decided Kinney should stay in Arizona. Many of her friends there have left for the summer, which Kitzi said will be hard on her mother.

“She’s a very social person, so I know that will be a heartache for her,” Kitzi said. “But I think she’s settling in and finding some daily activities and some normalcy with being social in this new world.”

Many retirement communities and nursing homes are requiring residents to stay in their own apartment. Friends and family are barred from visiting to decrease the possibility of exposure.

Jaye Wright, whose partner, Laurie Florio, is at The Villa at Blue Ridge in Columbia, has found it difficult.

“There are days when I just want to throw down everything and bring her home,” Wright said. “I can see her through the glass, but it’s not the same as breathing the same air and being able to talk to her.”

Wright and their daughter, Serena Florio, moved Laurie to Blue Ridge in October so she could have an accessible living environment with the care she needs because of health issues. Wright said what was a difficult choice then has become more so since the isolation orders, as she has not been able to see Laurie or check in with her caregivers in person.

“I would start painting pictures about how bad (Laurie was doing), but then I could visit her and see, ‘No, she’s doing OK,'” Wright said. “Now, I am back to where I don’t know what’s happening, and I can’t see her. I feel like I can’t really connect, I can’t show her (that I care).”

Serena agreed the restrictions made her worry about Laurie more than usual.

“On the news, I hear about the nursing homes in New York or New Jersey where (several residents) have gotten sick,” Serena said. “I know my house isn’t handicap accessible, and I can’t physically take care of her needs, but it is still really hard to think about, if there is a case of COVID-19 in her nursing home, I can’t take her out.”

Although Wright and Serena can’t be in close proximity with Laurie, they stay as connected as possible. Window visits and technology help, but they are no replacement.

“I try and go visit face to face through the glass once a week so she can see me and my kids,” Serena said. “We try and talk on the phone, too. It isn’t the same. She can’t speak very loudly, so it is definitely harder. She just doesn’t really understand why I can’t come pick her up or visit.”

“Before, we always had those moments where we could sit and watch TV and I could fix supper, and we could sit out on the porch and drink coffee,” Wright said. “There’s no way to really connect like that anymore.”

Kitzi owns Rho Engine Room, a fitness studio in Columbia, and hosts virtual workout classes for her mother and her mother’s friends to boost their mood.

“I knew there were probably a lot of seniors like her that felt kind of secluded,” Kitzi said. “I thought it would be a way to do some good, and with my mom being so social, if we created this group for her to love on, she could be giving back as well.”

Even as people find new ways to keep in touch with elderly loved ones, it is unclear when retirement communities and nursing homes will return to normal. This is one of the hardest parts about the pandemic.

“There’s no end in sight, no date where we will be able to see each other again, so that’s also hard,” Serena said. “Everybody who has a loved one is probably feeling the same feeling.”

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