Michelle Loubert has always made weekly visits to her 95-year-old godmother, who lives in a nursing home in Canaan, Conn.

When the coronavirus lockdowns restricted visitors beginning mid-March, Loubert, of Housatonic, continued to go, leaving her godmother's favorite shortbread cookies for in the facility vestibule, and speaking to her by phone while standing outside her window and waving. It beats Zoom, Loubert said.

Still, it's not been ideal. Though it's worked out fine for a woman who remembers the Great Depression, multiple wars, and other massive unrest in the U.S., Loubert said.

"I've seen worse," her godmother told her. "She's sharp as a tack," Loubert said, calling her a "tough one."

But Loubert said she knows it's harder for others. She saw a man outside wiping his tears while blowing kisses through the glass to his wife in a wheelchair.

"It just broke my heart," she said.

The attempt to control the spread of disease in nursing homes nationwide has trapped residents inside for nearly three months. With 28 nursing home deaths in the Berkshires, and around 42 percent of all U.S. deaths in nursing homes, the industry has sealed its facilities from the world, though Massachusetts on June 3 allowed family social meetings to resume outdoors, under certain conditions and safety precautions.

Still, residents can no longer congregate the way they used to for bingo and movie nights, dancing or live music. Some nursing homes have found ways to compensate, but it isn't the same.

Some have roommates, but others are alone, and miss human presence and touch.

Residents with dementia, those who can't manage technology for video or cellphone calls — or who haven't had window visits because they live on upper floors — suffer the most.

Some residents don't have cellphones because they can't afford them, or their disabilities prevent their use. And sometimes a communal phone isn't available when a loved one calls, according to advocates of nursing home reforms and family members.

Deep loneliness

It's worse for some — those with Alzheimer's disease for instance, and their families.

"There are people who come every day to feed their loved one, like a spouse or a daughter," said Alison Weingartner, executive director of Massachusetts Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, a nonprofit industry watchdog. "When those people were not allowed to see their person for weeks, they stopped eating. They do know that you're there."

Weingartner says the nonprofit receives numerous calls on their 800 numbers about this and the inability of those with dementia to communicate with technology.

Many nursing homes in the Berkshires and beyond solved the visitation problem by accessing state grants for multiple smart tablets to make it easier for videoconferencing.

"That was a solution," Weingartner said. "It didn't help those without cognition."

There were other, more painful situations for residents and their families, she added, if a resident was sickened with COVID-19.

"Utter frustration and devastation, and [sometimes] their loved ones died," she said, noting one daughter who contacted her, who couldn't gain access and couldn't properly advocate for her mother without physically being there. "You have to build rapport with the staff, otherwise a lot goes unseen," she added.

Gary Conger has a cellphone, but his wife can't operate one. She lives on the second floor in a locked down unit at at nursing home in Great Barrington, so window visits aren't possible.

"I'd like to call her several times a day," said Gary Conger. "I'd like to call her on Skype. And I have a computer but no one to help me set it up. I don't have a lot of means right now."

Jesse Goodman, a psychiatrist in Lenox, said it doesn't take a medical degree to know that "loneliness is painful" and that Zoom visits aren't the real thing.

Still, he said that for those in an institution, the problem is amplified.

"The part that's the most awful is if they have dementia," he said. "Early dementia is probably worse. If it's mild, to be confused and lonely is really awful."

One nursing home administrator says he knows that virtual visits are not so comfortable for this age group. If a family can't help, sometimes nursing home directors will get help from an ombudsman at Elder Services of Berkshire County, who can go to someone's home and assist them with technology.

"For the truly isolated person — and that's rare — I'd call and ask for help," said George Mercier, administrator at Mount Carmel Care Center in Lenox.

At Mount Carmel, they're trying to "have fun," despite all this.

"We had an ice cream cart one day," he said. "We had a barbecue today — pulled pork."

Another local psychiatrist who works with seniors says that loneliness can be worse for the single elderly person isolated at home during the pandemic. David Olds, of Alford, said he's seeing anxiety, depression and sickness as a result.

"There's a lurking feeling that this [pandemic] is really bad, possibly the end of the world, and it aggravates the depression and anxiety," he said. "And the flood of news all the time, one disaster after another — it really adds to the trauma."

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.