The year 2020 has been all about making plans and then having to deal with whatever life throws your way. Staff at personal care, assisted living, and memory care communities continue to work to keep residents socially active, emotionally healthy, and physically safe from COVID-19 even though that frequently means having to be prepared to change everything at the last minute.
Since COVID-19 began, there have been many considerations and regulations passed down from the Inspector General of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Kelly Miller, community relations director at Morning Pointe of Louisville, says residents are able to be outside of their apartments in common areas but must wear masks and are reminded to stay six feet from others. Staff and caregivers remain vigilant in prompting residents to be aware of their masks or distance as needed.
There are individuals, however, who still don’t feel comfortable going outside their apartments and being around larger groups of people. Their socialization comes in smaller doses through check-ins from staff several times a day.
Family Separation and Technology
Mary Haynes, president of Nazareth Homes, says the community is always focused on vibrant living and engagement for its elders, whether there is COVID-19 or not. What COVID-19 has meant is that everything social has been ramped up. Staff tries to ensure each resident has a meaningful day, which involves conversation, innovation, food, rest, and exercise. “What the challenge really is is not socialization. The big issue for us is family separation,” she says.
Nazareth Homes has been using technology, specifically It’s Never 2 Late (IN2L), to help foster connections when families can’t be physically close. For example, an elder was able to virtually attend her granddaughter’s baby shower in Chicago, Illinois. Elders, their care team, and families are using Zoom regularly to have planning meetings and check-ins.
Rendever virtual reality lenses on loan from the Thrive Center have allowed Nazareth Home elders to immerse themselves in nature, travel the world, or see entertainment. “There’s been a lot of research on virtual reality lenses, specifically in pain and anxiety management and prevention of depression. Only one to two encounters of a virtual reality experience weekly will reduce anxiety and improve mood and well-being,” Mary says.
Think Smaller and Outside the Box
In this current health climate, even the simplest ideas regarding socialization and group activities require more thought and planning. When it comes to preparing for holidays or special events, everything is uncertain. “All we can really do is plan for what we have guidelines for now,” Kelly says. “Guidelines can change on a dime. If we get new guidelines, we have to change that up.” One thing is certain, though: the singing and dance troupes that used to visit various senior living communities throughout the holiday season are not going to be able to do it now. Those things are pretty much off the table.
Socialization during COVID-19 demands that staff think completely outside the box. For example, while residents’ grandchildren and great grandchildren would trick-or-treat inside the building in years past, this year many communities changed it up by allowing children to instead visit stations outside windows to pick up goodies from small treat boxes and show off their costumes to their loved ones. Everyone is having to think smaller when it comes to socialization.
BY CARRIE VITTITOE | PHOTO BY MELISSA DONALD