Getting Creative in a Crisis

Published on : 5/7/20
  • A Dozen Unique Ways to Keep Residents Engaged During Social Distancing

    As Americans stay home to help fight the spread of COVID-19, those living in Senior Living communities are similarly in the same boat. Outside visitors are prohibited, group activities are canceled and communal dining is off limits.

    But when the going gets tough, the tough get creative. Encouraging creativity helps seniors express themselves, keeping their minds sharp and their spirits up - and finding interesting solutions can be fun for Senior Living community staff, too. If you’re struggling to think of ways to support your residents during this unprecedented time, here are some outside of the box ideas that may inspire you and them.

    1) Bingo: A classic and much-loved game in many Senior Living communities that now seems sadly put on pause because of social distancing. But does it have to be? Some nursing homes are beginning to stage socially distanced bingo games, with residents stationed at the open doors to their rooms, calling out the numbers in play. What a way to engage residents in a beloved activity even when they can’t be physically together in one place!

    2) Liven up mealtimes, even if it’s just some silly fun to advertise occasions like Meatball Monday, French Fries Friday and Soup and Salad Saturday. With packaged meals being delivered to rooms, it may feel hard to make them special - but a little expression of caring like a heart drawn on a napkin or a bloom picked from the garden tucked next to a plate could mean a lot.

    3) Arrange virtual dinner parties to creating great dining and hospitality experiences. Have the dining team create a special dinner party kit, and invite your residents to join in, preparing their meals at the same time and eating “together” in their doorways. They can toast each other and compare how much fun they had preparing the meals. Consider have staff join in to reinforce the community spirit.

    4) Some Senior Living centers have started daily newsletters to keep residents connected and up to date on the latest goings-on. Even while residents can’t visit one another in person, they could still contribute to this communal effort. Even when there’s not much going on during the COVID-19 lockdown, and typical events are cancelled, a newsletter could contain helpful news-you-can-use like lunch and dinner menus or the local weather forecast. Other options are updates on residents’ lives. Did someone just welcome a new grandchild? Did a family member recently marry? There’s always the possibility of adding a joke or two or an easy Sudoku or word puzzle.

    5) Try putting together a round-robin story. Start with one line, have each resident contribute a successive line and pass the story around the community. The plot is sure to thicken. Here are some classic first lines that could get the creative juices flowing:

    “Once upon a time …”

    “It was a dark and stormy night.”

    “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've

    been turning over in my mind ever since,” courtesy of “The Great Gatsby.

    “It was 7 minutes after midnight,” courtesy of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the


    “It was love at first sight,” from “Catch-22."

    6) Arrange a roaming book, magazine or puzzle cart. Try gathering up materials from the day rooms, using preventive disinfection measures to ensure resident safety. Single out one day as Book Day, offering popular selections like mysteries or romance novels. Have residents sign them out, and return them so others can take their turn.

    7) Parade pets outside the building and greet seniors through the windows. Encourage staff members to bring their family dog to make an appearance. Does anyone have an out-of-the ordinary pet to show off like an exotic bird or a snake? Live animals and their antics can brighten up the day.

    8) Celebrate birthdays with cards or a special note on a meal tray or a “Happy Birthday” serenade. Decorate for upcoming holidays like Memorial Day and the Fourth of July with flags and ribbons. Check out the plentiful list of National Days here. The month of May alone features National Orange Juice Day, National Apple Pie Day, National Cherry Cobbler Day and National Vanilla Pudding Day. June is Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month, and contains National Olive Day and National Say Something Nice Day. Now, that’s a day that's surely tailored for all of us in lockdown!

    9) At one Senior Living community, a gifted staffer started playing guitar for residents, providing interludes from the hallways. Even from separate rooms, residents could be encouraged to join in a sing-along of a popular favorite tune.

    10) Put folks to work, so to speak. Many organizations such as local political parties, election campaigns, churches, fund drives and charities need volunteers to make calls. See if residents have an interest in politics or a favorite cause. Making calls to help an organization update their contact list, announce the date and location of a food bank effort or help solicit donations can easily be done from a senior residence.

    11) Build a buddy system inside the community. Pair up residents, especially those who might not know one another, to check in each day by telephone to feel connected. Make it a regularly scheduled call, so they know to expect it and know that someone will be listening and making a social connection.

    12) For residents with cell phones or tablets, design a menu of podcasts they can listen to any time. Groups for seniors often offer recommendations, including NPR’s “This American Life” that features top-notch storytelling and “Good Job, Brain,” a clever mixture of quiz show, history and trivia. For those with more traditional media at hand, find out a schedule of radio programs that might be appealing such as swing, big band, Latin or country music shows.

    For many seniors, this is not the first challenging time they have navigated. Since creativity requires us to draw on our existing talents and discover new ones, we hope these ideas will help draw out the best in your residents and staff. Doing more to move your community forward is what drives us and this would not be possible without a team who care deeply about making life better every day.

    Find more information on how Sodexo can help.