Even as COVID-19-related restrictions begin to lift in some areas of the country, many senior living communities are continuing no-visitation policies and are considering comprehensive screening and visitation policies for when the time is right.

It is well known that data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that older adults and the elderly are at an elevated risk of not only contracting coronavirus but of dying from complications attributed to the virus. In fact, about 10% to 27% of cases of COVID-19 in individuals aged 85 and older may be fatal.

These statistics continue to be alarming, but when looking specifically at locations where large numbers of elderly adults live, such as senior living and care facilities, we can continue to undertake specific measures to help keep residents safe and healthy.

Cleaning protocols

Of course, some of the most important actions a senior living community can take against COVID-19 involve infection control.

That includes increased cleanings and disinfecting of all common areas, as well as resident rooms. Staff members, where applicable, also should continue to make sure to clean electronic devices such as TVs, remote control devices, keyboards and other frequently touched surfaces. Frequent hand-washing by staff members and residents also should continue to be stressed.

Cleaning is especially important when caring for residents or patients who have incontinence. This typically is one of healthcare professionals’ most direct exposures to germs, so try to make sure your staff members are equipped with the proper cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment. Incontinence products such as pull-ups, briefs and pads can help reduce exposure to germs in the first place.

With the weather warming up, consider opening up doors and windows to let in fresh air. This is a great way to help increase ventilation in the community and add some joy to your residents’ day.

Social distancing

As we’ve seen in the past several weeks, another effective step to combat COVID-19 has been social distancing. With older adults being in a high-risk group, it’s especially important in long-term care to enact measures to limit interactions with others.

Across the country, many senior living and care facilities have enabled protocols that prevent outside visitors, such as relatives, from visiting residents during this unprecedented time. Unfortunately, in many cases doing so has meant keeping residents separated from other residents and staff members, as well as family members, to reduce exposure. But this limitation also usually has extended to any outside vendor who is not deemed essential, with mandatory screenings for anyone entering facilities to ensure that they are not sick or symptomatic.

Another key to keeping residents healthy is limiting interactions between residents. This practice has varied by facility but often involves meals served in residents’ rooms, the canceling or reconfiguring of group activities and, aside from scheduled times, a requirement that residents remain in their individual rooms.

Combating depression

After these necessary measures are implemented to help flatten the curve and limit the spread of COVID-19 in senior living and care facilities, many residents increasingly feel isolated, not only from other residents and staff members, but also from family members. This seclusion ultimately could lead to sadness and even depression.

Staff members can take some simple steps to help combat depression and bring joy into residents’ lives. Perhaps your team is doing some or all of these things. If not, here are some ideas.

  • Create ‘hello’ cards. Address one card for each resident, then pass out the cards to residents and staff members and ask them to write messages to each other.
  • Family video calls. Set up an area where residents can schedule times for video calls with their family members via Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, Google Meet or another platform.
  • Daily announcements. Have your staff members video their daily announcements and updates (birthday wishes, important updates, etc.). Your residents can watch these on social media, their computers or, if your technology allows, on their TVs.
  • Group music and singing. Schedule a time when residents can open their doors and join together for music and singing. Tap into some of their talents, and have some residents volunteer to join in with instruments.
  • “Group” exercise. We’ve all seen the awesome group exercises being hosted across the globe. Set up a time when your residents can go out onto their balconies (if available) or to a large open space (while still maintaining social distancing), and host a yoga or Zumba class.

During this unprecedented time, one of the best things we can do is to limit the spread of fear. It’s important to stay educated and keep your residents informed about what is happening but make sure they know the safety measures that your team is taking to keep them safe. Continue to talk to them, visit with them and listen to their concerns.