Coronavirus in Oklahoma: Nursing-home lockdowns made more difficult when loved one inside has memory issues
EDMOND — Terri Ritterhouse has tried to explain to her dad why she isn’t coming inside his assisted-living center, why she is only visiting him these days through the window.
She has assured him it’s not because she is ill.
“I’m not sick,” she had told him, “but the world is, and so we have to be very, very, very careful.”
Does he understand?
Ritterhouse has no way of knowing — her father, Troy O’Hair, is dealing with Parkinson’s dementia.
What the coronavirus pandemic has done to our world is difficult for anyone to wrap their mind around, but when your mind can’t think and reason like it once did, it’s even more difficult.
The Alzheimer’s Association said those living with Alzheimer’s or other dementias make up more than half of the elderly receiving care in nursing homes. And with nursing homes and assisted-living facilities across the United States locked down because of the coronavirus pandemic, the number of people inside those facilities likely struggling to understand what is happening is staggering.
Ritterhouse is struggling, too, but it’s because she’s a loved one who’s been left on the outside looking in.
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“I just don’t want him to feel like they’ve been forgotten,” she said.
Ritterhouse moved her dad from Alva to Edmond three years ago so she could visit him more often. She is an only child, and after her mom died in 2015, Ritterhouse worried about her dad. Being a third-grade teacher, she couldn’t always make the 2½-hour drive to the Woods County town northwest of Enid.
Ritterhouse knew moving her dad to Touchmark at Coffee Creek was the right decision, but she hated to take him away from his home. Even though O’Hair grew up in Laverne and spent some time in the army, he went to college at Northwestern Oklahoma State and never left Alva.
He lettered in three sports in college. Football. Basketball. Baseball. Even at the small-college level in the 1950s, playing three sports much less lettering in all was almost unheard of.
But O’Hair loved sports and was good at everything he did. He played golf and tennis. Bowled. Ice skated. Coached football. Even officiated basketball.
Ritterhouse remembers riding with her dad and his officiating crew to games. She’d listen to them talk about sports in the car, then she’d watch the game from the stands. Fans booing her dad and his buddies was her worst nightmare.
“I’d go to the bathroom and cry,” she said.
When she moved her dad to Edmond, Ritterhouse got to visit him almost every day. Once she was done at school, she’d stop and see him.
Over the past year or so, she realized she wasn’t just visiting her dad. Because the number of folks in Touchmark’s memory-care wing is small, she got to know all of them.
“Those people have kind of become my people,” she said. “They were so used to me.”
“As a matter of fact, they would kind of scold me if I would miss a day. I think many of them thought that I worked there.”
Now, when she goes to visit her dad at the window — she still goes three or four days a week — many of the others will come to the glass, too. She loves seeing them and interacting as best she can.
But she is most mindful of her dad.
O’Hair, 88, still recognizes her, though he sometimes confuses details about her. A week or so ago, he told one of the aides that Ritterhouse, who is 65, was expecting a baby. It’s actually her daughter — O’Hair’s granddaughter — who is pregnant.
A few days ago while Ritterhouse was visiting, O’Hair repeatedly said he wanted to cry.
She understood the feeling.
“I want to cry,” she said.
But even through the glass, she still sees flashes of her dad.
“You’d better get on home,” he’ll tell her after she’s been at the window for a while.
It’s something he’s said before.
“I think it’s his way to tell me he’s finished talking to me,” Ritterhouse said through laughter.
But these days, she gladly accepts a bit of laughter, a hint of normalcy.
She doesn’t take any of it for granted.