After weeks without in-person visits, Winnipeg woman and husband with Alzheimer’s reunite

A Winnipeg woman whose husband lives with Alzheimer’s disease was among the first in months to pay an in-person visit to a Misericordia Place Personal Care Home resident on Wednesday.

Misericordia Place — a 100-bed public care home in the city’s West Broadway area — was among the homes that allowed in-person outdoor visits for the first time since March on Wednesday.

For the weeks before that, Lynn Soens could only connect with her husband, Roger Soens, by phone and FaceTime, as visits to long-term care facilities in Manitoba were suspended in March to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to vulnerable seniors and those with underlying health conditions.

That’s left families to connect via phone, video chats or “window visits,” on opposite sides of a pane of glass.

The province announced last week those rules would be relaxed to allow outdoor visits.

That was welcome news for Lynn Soens, who said even FaceTime visits were challenging, as her 79-year-old husband struggled to hold his iPad steady, so she found herself looking up at the ceiling or at the flowers behind his head, instead of the face she longed to see.

She was among 17 families that reconnected with their loved ones at Misericordia Place on Wednesday.

“Today was something completely different,” she said.

Roger Soens, 79, got to visit with his wife for the first time since mid-March. (Submitted by Lynn Soens)

She had worried he might not remember her.

“I really was quite scared how he would react to see me,” she said, but “he seemed very happy to see me, and sat down and chatted away.”

As she got ready to leave, she said he turned to give her a hug, then teared up when she had to refuse his gesture.

“I said, ‘Roger, I’m really sorry, I can’t kiss you and I can’t give you a hug,'” she told him.

He appeared to be a little upset as the nurse took him away, Lynn said. She promised to see him again Friday, but doesn’t know if he fully understands the evolving COVID-19 situation.

Safely connecting loved ones

Lynn credited the staff and the “lovely” garden setting in the courtyard for making their brief time together so special.

Jennifer Taylor, the director of the long-term care program at the Misericordia Health Centre, said the employees worked hard to prepare the grounds for visits.

To give “everyone a fair chance,” Taylor said they are working with families to schedule visits, so they can accommodate visitors between the hours of 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. without breaching public health orders.

“Today was just a great opportunity to be able to make sure that people were connecting with the ones that they truly love,” Taylor said.

“I can feel how the families feel, and I can feel how the residents feel, and I think we can all put ourselves in that position,” she said.

Taylor got emotional when talking about the reunion day, after months of keeping people apart.

“You can imagine the stress and the pressure that we’ve all been feeling in these last couple of months,” she said.

“We’ve just been really trying to keep it together and keep people safe, but also happy and engaged and stimulated. But we’re sure no replacement for family.”

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