COVID isolation brings depression in elderly

Jeff Guy
Robert Roswurm performs music for long term care residents.

For an audience of residents, sitting in chairs and wearing masks at Wellington Health and Rehab, Friday afternoon, Rivercross Hospice chaplain and musician Robert Roswurm sang and played church songs and pop classics on his guitar.

Roswurm performed such numbers as “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” “Amazing Grace” and “Cry to Me.” He has been with Rivercross for the past seven or eight months. Since April when COVID-19 prompted long term care facilities to close their doors to the public, Roswurm has been performing to nursing home crowds consistently in such towns as Andover, Kingman and Newton to name a few.

The musical performances lift the spirits of residents who remain primarily in their rooms, unable to leave the facility or take in person visits from loved ones due to the vulnerability COVID-19 poses to elderly people.

While the rest of the state and country is gradually opening up, long term care facilities remain just as shut down as they were before the state even began to shut down, Marla Nispel, administrator of Wellington Health and Rehab and Botkin Care and Rehab, said.

Among residents, there is “increased depression,” Nispel said. “There’s been some decline in physical health. There’s hopelessness. They don’t see the world outside. They don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Family members have visited loved ones from outside windows and via iPads, which are helpful, but nothing can replace personal contact, Nispel said.

Residents have also received mental health services through tele-health, she said.

“We are in the process of writing a reopening plan,” Nispel said. “We still have to follow CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) and state of Kansas guidelines and work with the local health department. We have to cover all aspects of the reopening.”

Nispel said she wants to allow more family visits, perhaps where one or two people sign up in advance to be in the building at a certain time.

“We’ll have to write a plan to ease visitors back into the building,” she said.

For that day, the residents were happy to get a little outside time and take in the performance. A female resident made a special effort to tell Roswurm how much she enjoyed his performance.

Nispel said music “nourishes their soul. The folks with dementia, they’re singing.”