Image of woman visiting her grandmother in isolation during a coronavirus pandemic
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An editorial in response to a 2023 study about caring for people with dementia during the pandemic highlights some of the ongoing issues in nursing home care quality that became prominent during the outbreak and subsequent lockdowns.

The study reported that emergency preparedness plans need to address the unique needs of residents with dementia, as visitation restrictions and environmental changes were particularly difficult on those individuals. The physical environment in the nursing homes also should be evaluated to mitigate risk for residents who have dementia, said authors of the study, which included insights from 156 interviews with administrators of 40 nursing homes in the United States.

The authors of the editorial published Thursday in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society are Kathleen T. Unroe, MD, a professor of medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine, and Gail L. Towsley, PhD, an associate professor at the University of Utah College of Nursing. 

Unroe and Towsley wrote about the need to emphasize the role of family caregivers when designing care for residents with dementia. The researchers highlighted an administrator who was interviewed for the study and discussed the distress of a 92-year-old man who no longer could visit his wife daily to feed her when nursing homes were locked down.

“Based on experiences such as this, some states enacted policies around ‘essential family caregivers’ to make exceptions for some family caregivers to maintain access to provide hands-on support,” Unroe and Towsley wrote. “These policies represent a formal recognition of the necessity of family support for nursing home residents. Such policies were not widespread, however, and only partially address the critical role of family and friend connections for people in nursing homes.”

“While the pandemic included lessons we wish we did not have to experience, we have an opportunity to shift our practices and re-focus on high quality dementia care,” they wrote. “The loss of contact of family and friends was costly to nursing home residents; strategies to better integrate family caregivers into high quality nursing home care is an important area of research.”

The authors highlighted the Moving Forward Nursing Home Quality Coalition, which formed in 2022 and aims to improve care quality at nursing homes.