Blog, Six Dimensions of Wellness

Facing the Coronavirus, Together: Overcoming Isolation in Senior Living

As the global outbreak of COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) continues to unfold, senior living providers are taking meticulous care to protect the health and safety of their residents and team members. Since mid-March, when the no-outside-visitors rule went into effect in senior care facilities, providers have looked for new ways to help residents feel connected and avoid senior isolation.

“The suspension of visiting and social activities for seniors puts them at higher risk of feeling isolated, depressed, and lonely,” says Susan McKinney, vice president of operations at Lifetime Wellness, a Texas-based service provider to senior living communities. “Staff are working tirelessly not only to take every precaution in fighting the virus but also to boost resident – and employee – morale.

“From a wellness perspective, the pandemic has brought a rapid shift in mindset about how we can best engage residents. Because communal spaces, such as activity rooms and dining halls, are for now off limits, we’ve expanded in-room activities to reduce senior isolation and provide residents with options that can be done independently or along with a staff member – or virtually, over the Internet.”

Virtual Volunteers

Lifetime Wellness has launched a new program, Virtual Volunteers, to connect residents with community volunteers through technology.  “Perhaps a resident seeks a child to read a story to, a student volunteer hopes to show off their latest dance performance, or a resident and volunteer want to match wits over a game of trivia,” McKinney says. “This program makes activities possible through the power of virtual connection.”

Another easy way to prevent senior isolation is by providing a “pet parade.” This program invites pet owners in the neighborhood to schedule a walk with their pets alongside resident buildings. “It’s a great way to spread joy from a distance.” 

Wellness Activity Request Cards

A simple tool for continued connection is a wellness activity request card, similar to a room service delivery card in a hotel. Residents select from a menu of choices and hang the card on their door for pickup. They check what activities they want to engage in, from independent pursuits, such as art, music, movies, puzzles, and reading materials, to one-on-one activities, such as a Facetime chat or a social or spiritual visit from a staff member. Staff readily deliver on resident orders.

“Some activities are being completed at a distance, through the resident’s doorway,” McKinney explains. In “doorway bingo,” for example, the activity director calls out numbers from the hallway while residents play along from the safety of their rooms.  In “doorway spin,” a facilitator plays music while residents exercise from their rooms using a pedal exerciser bike. Some communities are making videos and live-streaming platforms available for residents to stay active while practicing social distancing.

Visitation Stations

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, some communities have set up “visitation stations.” Visitors come to a window or glass door, look at their loved one through the glass, and talk to them by phone.

These visits can lead to spontaneous surprises. For example, at the Lifetime Wellness partner community Hillside Medical Lodge, a resident with cognitive decline was not responding to her daughter and son-in-law’s attempts to converse. “They began to sing ‘Jesus Loves Me’ from the walkway,” McKinney says. “The resident joined in. So did the staff!”

Mental Health Support

 In April, Lifetime Wellness is rolling out a planned wellness campaign focused on mental health and stress awareness.  With the theme, “Be Kind to Your Mind,” the program is educating residents and staff on the best ways to minimize stress and keep the mind engaged.

“In uncertain times like these, it’s especially important to focus on mental health,” McKinney says. “We’re social beings and we like to be close to others. Without our usual interactions, we can quickly become depressed.”

The campaign offers tips for decreasing stress and increasing connection, such as taking breaks from watching the news, and scheduling regular calls with family and friends.

Resources for Staff

Staff, too, need extra support in these challenging times. Lifetime Wellness offers employee life enrichment programs that help employees avoid compassion fatigue – physical, mental, and spiritual depletion, so often a hazard in extreme conditions.

“Staff are working around the clock to keep residents safe and feeling loved,” McKinney says. “With schools closed, it’s particularly stressful for staff members who have kids at home to balance work and family life. We encourage employees to pause, reflect, and find time for their own wellness.

“Residents, staff, families, the health care community, and the world at large – we’re all in this together. Finding creative ways to navigate the changing currents, encourage connection, and build community, even from a distance, will be key not only to ‘flattening the curve’ but also to offering hope and comfort.”

Avoid feelings of senior isolation in those you care for during these uncertain times. Lifetime Wellness provides person-centered wellness, life enrichment, and recreational programming to more than 40 independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing, rehabilitation, and memory care facilities. Contact us today.