While much of the country copes with varying levels of “shelter-in-place,” nursing home residents are experiencing the most isolating scenarios of all. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a total lockdown at most long-term care facilities to protect those most vulnerable from contracting the virus, separating residents from their family and friends during these unsettling times.
Social isolation among older adults is a “serious public health concern” and can have negative implications for both their physical and mental health. Research has shown isolation and loneliness to be major contributing factors to heart disease, dementia, and a host of other health problems. Add to this the ongoing concerns about the pandemic’s impact on themselves and their loved ones, and the reality leaves our elderly population at a much higher risk for experiencing isolation-related depression as well as poorer physical and mental outcomes.
Nursing home staff can play a vital role in easing the loneliness that can accompany the pandemic precautions—a challenge many facility teams are embracing with passion and determination. Here are some ideas:
CONNECTING WITH THE YOUNGER GENERATION
Facilities across the country are connecting multi-generations. They are partnering students, who are currently being schooled at home, with seniors in residential isolation as “pen pals.” The back and forth of written correspondence allow both participants to share their thoughts and feelings during this time of crisis. Besides bringing joy to the residents, this project can serve as an English assignment. It offers practice in penmanship and letter writing, as well as training in core skills in grammar and punctuation. Incorporating a series of interview-type questions about the senior’s life experiences turns the exchange into a history lesson. Encourage students to ask their elderly pals what school was like when they were young. Including homemade cards, drawings, and watercolor creations will not only brighten a resident’s day; it’s a perfect art class project.
GETTING CREATIVE WITH ACTIVITIES
Activity directors are putting a new spin on the traditional Tuesday afternoon Bingo. Rather than gathering in the dining hall, residents are positioned in the doorway of their room, facing the hall, where the Bingo “caller” presides over the game. Even while adhering to social distancing guidelines, residents can enjoy a favorite activity.
CONNECTING THROUGH TECHNOLOGY
Technology is assisting many senior living communities with keeping residents in contact with friends and family not permitted to visit. By utilizing video chat applications such as FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, and Google Hangouts, residents can see the faces and hear the voices of their loved ones, easing worry on both sides of the visual conversation. Many facilities are also utilizing their social media accounts to connect residents with the outside world. Posts featuring smiling residents holding a personalized whiteboard-message to their families brighten the day for all involved.
GET IN THE SPIRIT
To liven up the visitor-less days, one facility hosted “Spirit Week” with a different theme each day. Patriotic decorations were splashed about, and staff and residents dressed in red, white, and blue for America Day. Leis and tropical-print attire brightened everyone’s spirits as staff and residents went all out for the Hawaiian Luau Day.
CHAT ON THE PHONE
Long-term care facilities are providing residents with contact information for the Friendship Line (800-971-0016). Hosted by the Institute on Aging, The Friendship Line is a 24/7, toll-free phone line for people aged 60 years and up. It serves as both a crisis intervention hotline and a warmline for non-emergency emotional support calls, providing a friendly chat with trained volunteers who specialize in conversations with seniors.
Seeing older adults through this crisis presents both a challenge and an opportunity to serve for the dedicated men and women who staff nursing home and assisted living communities across this country. Being creative with the way we help them connect with others can make a huge difference.