The COVID-19 pandemic has created a paradox for older adults. On the one hand, because the disease is known to take a heavier toll on older individuals than on the young, we must implement measures to limit their risk of exposure to the virus, including maintaining safe social distancing. On the other hand, ample research has shown that social isolation and loneliness can contribute to a wide range of physical, emotional, and mental-health problems in older adults. So, the steps we take to protect seniors from one threat can actually make them more vulnerable to others.
However, according to Gayle Young, Director of Marketing, Communications and Public Relations for Sunset Retirement Communities, with a little creativity, it’s possible to keep seniors engaged and connected during this crisis despite social distancing. Here are some of her suggestions:
Be physically present to the extent possible
While in-person visits with seniors must be curtailed at this time, it may be possible to meet face to face, check on your loved one’s well-being, and just be present to one another through a glass door or window. In fact, many senior living communities are doing what they can to facilitate these visits to help reassure residents and their families and give everyone a reason to smile. “If your loved one resides in a senior living community, be sure to ask the facility staff what accommodations they are able to make in this regard,” Young advises.
One silver lining to the cloud of COVID-19 is that it struck at a time when there are multiple platforms for virtual face-to-face communication, including video communication apps such as Zoom, Skype, and FaceTime. You can take advantage of these technologies not just for regular conversations, but also to engage with your senior loved one in other ways.
“For example,” says Young, “if your loved one still lives at home, you could arrange a virtual dinner. Simply have a meal delivered at a predetermined time and enjoy it together virtually. Another option is to supply everyone with the same puzzle and do it together—possibly competing to see who can finish it first—or to play a virtual game of checkers or chess. Or, Grandma and Grandpa or other older adults can use one of the video communication apps to read favorite bedtime stories to the youngsters. Really, the only limit is your imagination.”
Young also notes that older adults with memory impairment tend to respond very positively to the music of their past, so another way to help keep them engaged is to do virtual sing-alongs, choosing familiar songs such as church hymns or even Happy Birthday.
Send letters and care packages
Seniors always welcome “snail mail” cards and letters, especially those containing photos of family members, so be sure to keep them coming. “Also, we’ve been offering our residents ‘Boredom Busters’ such as word searches, crossword puzzles, and sudoku pages to challenge their minds and help them pass the time. Consider putting together and sending a package of these items and others that you think your senior loved one will enjoy,” Young recommends.
Monitor their nutrition
Young also reminds HLN readers that it’s important to keep an eye on their senior loved one’s nutritional intake during this crisis. Many older adults who live independently are at increased risk of malnutrition, not only because getting to the grocery store is more challenging, but also because the sense of loneliness and isolation can cause them to lose interest in eating and preparing healthy meals for themselves. “One way to ensure they’re getting enough healthy foods is to arrange for a delivery service to bring groceries to their home. Of course, if you notice that your senior loved one seems to be struggling with nutrition or any activities of daily living, it may be time to consider a senior living community. Here at Sunset, we’ll be happy to help you explore the different options,” says Young.
Sunset Retirement Communities offers a full care continuum that includes assisted living, memory care, and health care at Sunset House; assisted living, health care, memory support, and a state-of-the-art rehab center at Sunset Village; independent living apartments at The Woodlands; active-living homes at Fieldstone Villas; and hospice and palliative care services through Ashanti Hospice and Palliative Care. For more information, please call 419-536-4645 (Sunset House), 419-724-1200 (Sunset Village), 419-724-1220 (The Woodlands), or 419-386-2686 (Fieldstone Villas), or visit www.sunset-communities.org.
Though Sunset is not currently offering in-person tours due to the COVID-19 crisis, interested individuals are encouraged to call the admissions team at any of Sunset’s locations. These knowledgeable and friendly professionals will be happy to share their insights as well as photos of the various communities. Also, virtual tours of the different Sunset locations can be viewed at www.sunset-communities.org.