As long as your senior living community is following relevant health recommendations and regulations, it might be the safest place for an older adult to live during the COVID-19 pandemic. Contact with the outside world can be extremely limited, however, especially in places where cases of the virus still make visits impossible.
And social isolation already was a concern, before we’d ever heard of the coronavirus. So what can you do to combat it?
Stay connected over video
If you haven’t offered already, see if you can help residents set up their phones, computers or tablets to join family members via video calls on Zoom, Google Meet, Skye or FaceTime. Group calls can bring a measure of happy chaos, with multiple voices overlapping. Hearing friendly voices and faces can be comforting and lively. It can be a satisfying way to connect.
Get creative on the phone
Daily check-ins set up a regular routine, which probably will make residents and their families feel better. Also encourage residents to read to their young relatives — perhaps at bedtime — or watch a movie “together” and talk about it during the film or later.
Encourage family members to send care packages with hand sanitizers, masks and maybe even a surprise such as family photos, games or uplifting reading material. If a care package seems a bit much, what about flowers? Or simply a letter or card?
Put the deliveries through your usual acceptance process — for instance, some facilities leave contents in a common area for a specified time before delivering them to residents, to minimize the chances of disease spread. But when delivered, they should bring joy to residents.
Encourage healthy behavior
Even in communities where residents have more freedoms during the pandemic, talk to them about wearing a mask whenever they leave their rooms, and about washing their hands every time they return to their room. Also, if walking is an option, suggest taking walks in the facility (if that is permitted). Mobility can help keep spirits up. It’s also good for the mind.
If motivation is an issue, perhaps a resident can get on the phone and go for a walk “together” with a loved one. If a resident is a news junkie, see whether he or she wants to switch to movies for now or to simply limit their intake, to minimize anxiety.
It’s important to keep in mind that change is hard on residents. Being separated from loved ones isn’t easy, but if it is necessary in your area, then these suggestions could ease the difficulty.
Jeannette McClennan, the president and co-founder of McClennan Masson, a firm focused on building human-centered digital products for leading enterprise brands.