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Families enjoy critical connection with loved ones in LTC centers

“This is just awesome. It’s so much better to see her in person. We can communicate more smoothly," said Eileen Maler of the new Connection Station.

MINNEAPOLIS — Never underestimate the power of connection.

Not when you haven’t seen your loved one – in person – for four months. And not when that loved one may be suffering from Alzheimer’s.

“It’s been the hardest thing about the virus for me,” said Eileen Maler about her family’s separation from her mother, 90-year-old Patricia Bloodgood, who is in the early stages of the disease.

There’s no question the required social distancing during the pandemic has taken a toll on the greater community. But families dealing with dementia may have struggled the most, given that their loved ones are often unable to communicate through a screen.

“It was definitely hard knowing that she didn’t have a grasp of what was going on in the world, and we had to keep reminding her. So that was definitely hard that she didn’t understand, and she just felt she was abandoned,” Maler reflected, noting that they were fortunate that their matriarch could mostly carry on a Zoom conversation.

The Connection Station

But nothing can replace that in-person connection. And the family rediscovered that truth last week, by becoming one of the first families to experience the “Connection Station” at Ecumen Abiitan, Mill City.

“This is just awesome. It’s so much better to see her in person. We can communicate more smoothly. There can be more back and forth, and she’s joking more,” Maler said about the new option that Ecumen Senior Care unveiled at centers throughout the state just last week.

Also last week, the Minnesota Department of Health updated their visiting guidelines for long-term care centers. For those facilities that provide a safety protocol, families can designate an “essential caregiver” to visit their loved ones. But that policy does not allow for multiple visitors. That’s why Ecumen expects their “Connection Stations” to still be in demand.

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A meaningful visit

On Monday morning, Maler and her sister – also Patricia Bloodgood – sat on one side of a plexiglass divider. On the other side was their mother: wearing a straw hat and pink lipstick.

“You look like a movie star,” the daughters gushed to their mother, who smiled, responded and laughed on cue.

For about an hour, the trio was able to catch up on everything from current events to family milestones. They enjoyed a casual conversation while also noting the passing bumblebee – the kind of natural connection Ecumen staff hoped families could now enjoy.

“It seems more real. I mean, she’s really alive and present, and it just seems more real and it’s a better connection,” said the younger Patricia Bloodgood.

“I think for her it’s just so comforting to see us in person,” Mailer said, also noting: “She knows we’re here. We’re going to visit her. She knows she’s got loved ones nearby. And I think that has helped her be more positive.”

By the way, the Bloodgood family had planned a big 90th birthday celebration for Patricia on March 30. They hope to hold that celebration on her 91st birthday instead.