Even as Colorado begins to reopen, Denver’s total number of COVID-19 deaths continues to rise. Many are still worried, particularly for older parents, friends and grand/great grandparents. While concerns are not unfounded, the experience of local older adults offers a much-needed glimmer of hope. Older adults at Clermont Park Life Plan Community who have come “face-to-face” with coronavirus are already recovered or recovering, thanks to incredible resilience and the support of their family, community and caregivers.
Consider, for example, 95-year-old Evelyn Lyons (top right), who currently lives in the Health Suites neighborhood at Clermont Park Life Plan Community in south Denver. Last month Evelyn began to exhibit a mild cough and fever and tested positive for COVID-19. She was one of 13 residents in skilled nursing who were eventually confirmed or presumed positive for the virus. Right away, the vicinity was isolated from the rest of the community with plastic and the use of different care teams.
“Only nurses and nursing assistants entered,” explained Associate Executive Director Don Backstrom. “They were responsible for dining service, housekeeping service and all other needs. They came to work, were screened for symptoms and entered the neighborhood through one door. They took showers before leaving the neighborhood and exited out the back door.”
Even though Evelyn’s neighborhood has an average age of 90, the overwhelming majority of those diagnosed with the disease still recovered. Only two residents passed, and one of these was already in hospice.
“When we heard that my mom had COVID, my heart dropped to my toes,” shared Evelyn’s daughter Marianne Peoples. “We thought it was a death sentence for an older person. Instead, we had such a positive experience. I think it’s important for people to know that people who have the virus—even octogenarians or older—don’t all have really severe side-effects.”
Marianne attributes much of her mom’s recovery to the hard work of Clermont’s team who have, in many ways, become like extended family.
“You have a 95-year-old who survived a hip replacement and COVID-19 within three months of each other,” she pointed out. “That speaks volumes about the staff who care for her.”
But the virus wasn’t Marianne’s only concern. “My mom has dementia. I was worried for her mental health—boredom and lack of socialization. But they did a good job on the non-medical side too. I have four siblings, and we all did a video conference at least once, often twice a week. The nurses I saw on the video phone calls were joyful, even while picking up extra shifts. They were even calling us to see if we were OK and sharing anecdotes and updates.”
Now, Evelyn is doing much better and looks forward to getting a “proper” haircut. Recovering “wasn’t easy,” she said, “but I just got through — with time.”As someone who grew up during the Great Depression and outlived a rattlesnake bite when she was little, Evelyn certainly has had experience “getting through.”
And she isn’t the only one in the neighborhood who is, in her own words, a “tough cookie.” Her neighbor June Taylor (top left) was also recently presumed positive for the virus. She turned 88 on June 1.
“She’s one of the residents who took this virus in stride,” said Clermont’s Associate Executive Director Don Backstrom. “She was actually really down about not being able to be herself.”
This isn’t the first pandemic or quarantine that June has faced and overcome. When she was seven, June was diagnosed with polio when little was still known about the disease. Her whole family was placed on quarantine since they didn’t know if she could spread it to others.
“I’ve had so many surgeries throughout my life, and I came through all of them,” June explained. She’s taken the same approach to getting better now. “Just do what they tell you. Keep a positive attitude,” a mentality that has served her well through nearly nine decades.
She’s still incredibly independent, and, as her daughter Judith Smith shared, “my daughter even said, ‘if anybody can make it through COVID-19 and be ok, it’s grandma.’”
Thankfully, June is indeed well on the way to recovery, and her family has been able to join her for the journey thanks to FaceTime as well as regular calls and webinars with the Clermont team.
“They were very transparent in letting us know everything,” Judith said. “This was all new territory for everyone—for them and for us. I think they did an awesome job of keeping us informed. Given the situation, they did their very best.”