With pandemic restrictions, many senior communities continue to prohibit visitation, resulting in no face-to-face interaction between residents and their family and friends. These precautions are needed to keep the virus from harming at-risk seniors but can present many challenges to helping seniors stay “socially well.”
Being socially connected delivers a host of benefits. Research shows that seniors who have regular social engagement are happier and less likely to experience physical and cognitive decline. Senior living communities strive to offer residents easy access to social programs and activities that match their interests and connect them with others with similar pursuits.
Six Dimensions of Wellness: Social Wellness
“Social wellness is one of the six dimensions of an integrated model of healthy aging, along with physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and vocational wellness,” says Susan McKinney, vice president of operations at Lifetime Wellness. Her company, a leading provider of whole-person wellness programs for senior living, is helping its partner facilities with creative ideas for providing social activities.
“In these months of ongoing quarantine, social wellness is probably the most difficult part of the equation to maintain. Care providers are trying different approaches to help seniors converse, cultivate strong support networks, and continue to feel part of the wider social community.”
Zooming to Bring People Together – Apart
Lifetime Wellness has been an innovator in using the latest video call technology, such as Zoom. “In the midst of so many social restrictions, it’s been a vital resource,” McKinney says. “Our partner communities are equipped to set up video chats between residents and their families and friends.
“Zoom has also enabled us to make pivots and stretch the way we are offering quality, meaningful activities. We average about 25–30 facilities at a time, and most activities can accommodate up to 80 participants.”
Popular programs include interactive games, such as “Nutrition Bingo” and “Health Education Jeopardy”; Virtual Body Works exercise activities; Virtual Music Works performances; and Nature Works, with a horticultural specialist who offers planting tips.
Lifetime Wellness also partnered recently with Dallas-based Stomping Ground Comedy Theater to bring laughter and connection to seniors and caregivers. Stomping Ground’s monthly Senior Variety Show is restreamed to almost 40 skilled nursing and memory care facilities throughout Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma.
Even though families and friends are not allowed into senior living facilities, residents still long to see their loved ones face to face. To fill the gap, many communities have set up window visits – face-to-face interactions with a window or glass door in between. Visitors look at their loved ones through the glass and talk to them by phone.
Some facilities are also offering special window activities, such as miniature horse visits and a full Jubilee Zoo. Other communities host spiritual singalongs with church volunteers, along with “music window therapy.” In these playful sessions, music therapists engage seniors through songs and instruments, from flutes to guitars and drums. “Residents love the music,” McKinney says. “It’s so important in keeping their spirits up.”
Pandemic Pen Pal Program
Many Lifetime Wellness partner communities have created pen pal programs to help residents develop new friendships and positive social connections.
Residents of Hillside Medical Lodge in Gatesville, Texas, for example, have received more than 23,000 letters from all over the world since starting their pen pals program. The community launched the initiative on Facebook. Residents were photographed displaying large posters with their first name and a statement of what they’d like to talk about with a pen pal, for example, “looking for someone who enjoys flowers and food.”
Lifetime Wellness partner communities have also accelerated the Cardz for Kidz! Program, creating handmade cards for children’s hospitals. During the pandemic, the program has returned the reachout, sending cheerful cards back to residents.
According to McKinney, the best thing about a personal letter or a card is it’s a form of communication that can be enjoyed over and over again—“a gift that keeps on giving.”
Options and Opportunities
“In tough times like these, we realize we have many options—and distinct opportunities to create unique experiences for our residents,” McKinney says. “Our staff members are ‘all in’ in finding new ways to keep residents active, engaged, and healthy.” In September, for example, Lifetime Wellness partner communities celebrated “Healthy Aging Month” with “An Apple a Day” wellness campaigns. Staff designed mobile activity carts, featuring artistic displays, harvest decorations, and a colorful array of delicious apple treats.
“Social distancing doesn’t have to mean social disconnection. We are united in making sure that the seniors in our partner communities continue to have an enriching and joyful experience.”
Learn more about how to stay connected to your senior loved ones in pandemic times. Contact us today to speak with a member of our team.