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By Lillian Boyd

Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s comes with its challenges.

With the threat of COVID-19, seniors with memory care issues face high risk, and even under standard circumstances, a lack of communication interferes with human connection.

“On a good day, a hug is what you know you can get. But with COVID restrictions, it’s this whole other layer of complexity.” said Suzy Welbaum, a San Clemente resident. “I just want a hug. A real hug. It’s that personal touch that is missed.”

Welbaum’s mother has been a resident at Aegis Living Dana Point for four years, after living with Suzy for 25 years. Prior to the pandemic, she would visit her mother two or three times a week, sometimes bringing her out in a wheelchair to the coastal overlook just a block away from the senior living facility.

Marian Whitney, a 98-year-old resident at Aegis Living Dana Point, says she’s looking forward to getting a haircut after the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Courtesy of Aegis Living

“Not only do I miss being with my mom like before, I also miss the community, because I was there all the time,” Welbaum said. “They’re my family, too.”

With vaccine distribution ramping up, a reunion may not be very far in the distance anymore. In November, Aegis Living registered its communities with CVS Health, its primary pharmacy provider and one of the organizations that has been formally approved by the Department of Health & Human Services, to administer the vaccine. On Tuesday, Feb. 2, Aegis Living Dana Point celebrated the administration of the first round of vaccines for its residents.

“It was hard at first, because you didn’t know what was going on or what to look forward to,” 98-year-old Aegis resident Marian Whitney said.

Whitney says she’s constantly asking when she can get a haircut and when she gets to take off her mask. But she says she continues to go on her daily walks—a routine she’s maintained since arriving at Aegis about 13 months ago.

“(The walks) are my therapy,” Whitney said. “The pandemic happened within several months of me coming to Aegis. There is really nice care here. Everyone is so polite, everyone knew my name right away. But it will be nice for things to feel normal again … for me to see my family again.”

Ric Pielstick has been the general manager of Aegis Living Dana Point for about a year and half. He says Tuesday was a day of celebration and a milestone.

“We made it a party, because it really was a turning point,” Pielstick said. “It’s going to be a tremendous relief. … But we’re not taking down our guard. We are going to continue to have safety and sanitation measures in place.”

Welbaum says that Aegis’s sanitation protocols were a prominent factor in putting her at ease throughout the pandemic.

“(Aegis was) way ahead of the game,” Welbaum said. “I clean, but I don’t clean like they clean. Having trained medical professionals that are there and are so responsive was just a weight off your shoulders.”

Welbaum says for her mother’s birthday, Aegis staff found a way to wheel her out for a socially distanced celebration, implementing Plexiglas and masks.

“They went they extra mile. I’ve always liked Aegis, but this has been a whole other level of appreciation,” Welbaum said. “If my mom was at home with us, I don’t know that I would have thought of everything they’ve thought of. And that’s a source of comfort for me.”

Aegis staff and residents are now looking forward to the second vaccination. But the protocols and safety measures will continue.

“We need to really know we are in the clear and have this thing in the past as a nation and as a world. We are going to continue to be vigilant,” Pielstick said.

Until then, Welbaum is holding out for another chance to be able to wheel out her mother to see the Pacific Ocean again—and a nice, long hug.

Lillian Boyd
Lillian Boyd is the senior editor for Picket Fence Media and city editor for Dana Point Times. She graduated with a degree in journalism from Humboldt State University. Her work experience includes interviewing incarcerated individuals in the Los Angeles County jails, an internship at the Pentagon covering U.S. Army news as well as reporting and anchoring for a local news radio station in Virginia. Follow her on Twitter @Lillianmboyd and follow Dana Point Times at @danapointtimes.

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