Managing Senior Depression and Isolation with Life Enrichment Activities

Nearly half of all Americans are reporting significant increases in symptoms of depression stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll. Seniors are particularly vulnerable to this pandemic-related depression.

Seniors are particularly vulnerable to pandemic-related depression. For those already struggling with mental health issues, ongoing requirements for social distancing can increase feelings of fear, anxiety, and loneliness. They may need extra encouragement to ask for help, including guidance on how to use technologies that can keep them connected to supportive social networks.

“As we go into the fifth month of social distancing, we’re seeing more signs of depression and discouragement,” says Susan McKinney, vice president of operations at Lifetime Wellness. Her company is a leading provider of whole-person wellness programs for senior living communities.

“Declining mental health can increase the risk of poor health outcomes overall. In the age of social isolation, staff need to be extra vigilant in spotting depression among residents – and extra creative in offering life enrichment activities that boost senior engagement.”

Themed Activities

One way to provide structure and catalyze involvement is to design life enrichment activities around monthly themes. Lifetime Wellness helps its partner communities develop and deliver engaging thematic events.

In May, for instance, to mark National Nurses Week and National Skilled Nursing Care Week, residents honored their caregivers with creative thank-yous.  “They wrote thoughtful notes and put together ‘nurse survival kits,’” McKinney says. “In this stressful time for caregivers, words and acts of appreciation are particularly uplifting.”

The last Wednesday in May, residents participated in online activities for National Senior Health & Fitness Day. Due to pandemic concerns, this was the first-ever virtual version of the annual event.  “With the theme, ‘Life Is Better in Motion,’ seniors exercised virtually with residents in partner communities. In today’s realities, where we may not be as active, the all-day event reinforced how exercise and wellness programs can lead to healthier lives.”

June activities revolved around Great Outdoors Month. Partner communities created a “photo opp” station, featuring a tent and mock fireplace. Activities ranged from S’mores on a cart and hallway-led campfire songs to an imaginative in-room “bear hunt.”

June was also National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month, featuring colorful farmer’s market carts and a focus on nutrition. “Depression often leads to loss of appetite and weight loss,” McKinney says. “With communal dining suspended now, communities are looking for new ways to spark residents’ interest in eating. Distributing fresh produce from room to room is an excellent solution.”

The Sound of Music

At any age, nothing lifts our spirits like music. Lifetime Wellness partner communities continue to offer a variety of musical activities – from virtual concerts and hallway karaoke singalongs to “music window therapy.” With these sessions, music therapists engage residents in song and instruments, from a safe distance outside the window.

Lifetime Wellness also continues to deliver the Music & Memory  program, providing personalized music for residents living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. The program is based on neuroscience research that highlights the therapeutic benefits of personalized music.

“In consultation with each resident and the resident’s family, staff create a custom playlist, delivered on digital devices,” McKinney says. “Favorite songs typically span all chapters of a resident’s life, sparking renewed connection.”

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Learn more about the benefits of music therapy!

Soothing Aromatherapy

Depression can also be eased through aromatherapy, the use of essential oils from plants to relieve stress and promote relaxation. The Lifetime Wellness signature AromaWorks program enables caregivers to expand their non-pharmacological intervention strategies – providing an individualized therapeutic approach for addressing mood disorders.

“The program helps staff assess resident needs and determine which oils are best suited for each individual,” McKinney says. “Essential oils are applied through inhalation with a diffuser or topically through a prediluted roll-on that is safe for sensitive skin.

Spiritual Wellness

With clergy and volunteers restricted from visiting senior living communities, new initiatives are helping residents address their spiritual health. For example, communities are providing an outlet for sharing any needs or prayer requests. “Residents and staff can fill out prayer cards and post them on a prayer board for others to view,” McKinney says.  “Those with needs are lifted up in prayer and often receive a comforting virtual spiritual visit.

“As needs arise, innovation – coupled with our commitment to serving the most vulnerable – continues to lead us to solutions for mood management. Creative approaches deliver support, comfort, and whole-person wellness, even in the most disruptive of times.”

Lifetime Wellness offers an array of life enrichment programs and activities to meet the needs of your facility. Contact us today to speak with a member of our team!