How old age homes are striking a balance between their senior citizen’s physical and mental health

It’s been a bleak couple of months for residents of the Soweto Home for the Aged. The retirement centre is located in Mofolo, in the heart of Soweto, which has in recent weeks surpassed the Joburg inner city to become the Covid-19 epicentre in Gauteng.

While the facility has put a variety of containment measures in place to protect their elderly residents and staff from contracting the coronavirus, they could not prevent the deadly disease from entering their premises.

“We have had about ten10 residents who tested positive for Covid-19 and we believe that two of them could have died from the virus,” the social worker Kabelo Thai told The Saturday Starsaid this week. “We are still waiting for hospital reports to confirm this.”

He explained that while it is normal for their elderly residents to get sick during winter, the pandemic has made matters worse this year.

“We are just barely coping. The residents are terrified of dying and the staff are panicked and frustrated about all the uncertainties.”

Thai said that the non-profit, which cares for about 90 homeless, destitute, neglected and needy elderly citizens of Soweto and neighbouring areas have drastically altered operations since March.

“Our elderly no longer go out to do their shopping, no visitors are allowed on our premises and we have temporarily stopped taking new admissions.”

The Gauteng Development of Social Development said 48 residential facilities for older persons had confirmed Covid-19 cases since March.

The Friendship Haven Old Age Home in Randfontein is also mourning Covid-19 related deaths. “We had two residents who have died from the coronavirus,” said chief operating officer (COO) sister Helea Eilers.

She explained these elderly residents died in hospital and both had comorbidities – the presence of one or more additional conditions often co-occurring with a primary condition – which in this case was Covid-19.

Eilers remains proud of the facility’s endeavours to protect their elderly residents from contracting the coronavirus.

“We are still in an almost total lockdown because the rise in cases is still high and we are still being very careful,” she said.

“There is still a ban on visitors. We communicate regularly with all our residents, and the staff are constantly wearing their masks and sanitising.”

While these measures have given those at Friendship Haven Old Age Home some control, Eilers admitted it is taking a toll on their elderly residents’ mental health. “Our elderly really miss their family and we try our best to help facilitate phone and video calls with their loved ones but they haven’t physically seen them since March.”

In a bid to boost morale, the Randontein facility is considering easing some of their stringent measures.

“We will make assessments at the end of next week to potentially ease some of the restrictions,” said Eilers.

This will include allowing visitors onto the premises but still under strict conditions such as maintaining social distancing and using masks during interactions.

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103-year-old Ada Zanusso, poses with a nurse at the old people’s home Maria Grazia in Lessona, northern Italy, afterrecovering from Covid-19 infection. | Picture: RESIDENZAMARIA GRAZIA LESSONA via AP Photo

In Krugersdorp, those at the Emmanuel Old Age Home might have been fortunate to have had no Covid-19 cases, but they have also admitted that their prolonged lockdown measures are also drastically dampening their senior citizen’s spirits.

The facility’s social worker Wilma Jordaan insisted that while keeping residents healthy is their first

priority, they are aware of the importance of their mental health during this unprecedented period.

“We have started doing singular social distancing walks around the premises and the residents are also allowed to enjoy the winter sunshine by sitting in the garden, but they still have to do this alone.”

Jordaan added they are also considering reintroducing some of their popular games such as Bingo, but with a much more limited capacity.

“We are thinking about having just two people seated at a round table at a time and we will constantly sterilise all the materials they use during the games.”

The social worker added that the local radio station which is broadcasted over their intercom system has also helped their residents adjust to the new normal.

“They really have enjoyed listening to church services, stories, music and jokes over the intercom from the

radio station.”

The Kensington Gardens retirement home has also had to be creative to keep their seniors busy and occupied during the global health crisis.

“We have started doing social distancing activities such as arts and crafts with only around five of our elderly residents at a time,” Luisa Maranda, marketing manager at the Flower Foundation which owns Kensington Gardens, said.

“This is all done by our own staff and we are still not allowing visitors or external contractors onto our


Maranda said that the inner city facility has not had any confirmed coronavirus cases and explained that while the independent retirement home does allow residents to move at their own will, many of them have opted to use their facilities and stay at home instead.

“About 90% of them have taken us up on our offer to do their shopping for them and many of them also use our catering services.”

Thabiso Hlongwane, spokesperson for the Gauteng MEC of Social Development, said 521 senior citizens at these old age homes contracted Covid-19 to date. While infections appear to be currently stablising and with the elderly in dire need of social interaction, Hlongwane does not think this is the time for these facilities to ease restrictions.

“The focus currently is on intensifying interventions to prevent and manage Covid-19 infections and not to ease lockdown measures. Visitation is controlled and facilities are not are allowed to admit new older persons unless the client or patient is in dire need.”

Marian House in Boksburg has also been fortunate to have been Covid-19 free. “Everything is still going okay by God’s grace, ”sister Rebecca Malefetse said. “We have not had any of our staff or residents testing positive for the coronavirus.”

Malefetse attributed this to strict containment measures.

“Our residents never leave the premises unless it’s for medical reasons. We still are not allowing visitors and areour nurses spend seven days here and then seven days off to limit the amount of time in the outside world.”

The Saturday Star

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