Supporting Seniors during Social Distancing

Published on : 11/6/20
  • Seven Suggestions for Taking Action

    As social distancing continues, and many Seniors aren’t able to enjoy the social activities of the past, teams must work together to support their health and wellbeing.

    Research has shown that people who feel worthwhile and connected can exhibit healthier immune systems, as cited by the National Institute on Aging.

    With seniors at such high risk, implementing practices that mitigate the potential for social isolation are now more important than ever. Here are seven key ways to take action and help your residents cope.

    1. Make food delivery a time to smile. While delivering prepared meals and grocery items to Senior Living residents’ doors is the necessary course of action, it’s possible to turn this basic action into an opportunity for a unique experience. Offer treats from a makeshift ice cream cart or write messages, a happy face or heart, on a napkin or delivery container for residents to see,

    2. Think about the power of education. Tap into seniors’ knowledge and experience, and structure ways for them to share it. Maybe a retired English teacher could give a talk using Zoom or FaceTime or Skype on Emily Dickinson’s poetry, or a musician could play and dissect the unique inflections of Frank Sinatra to a senior center audience. Take advantage of in-house or online communication systems so residents can participate while practicing required social distancing.

    3. Encourage seniors to reminisce, and actively listen to their stories. Ask them questions, make eye contact and pay attention. Research has shown that storytelling and memories are effective weapons against depression linked to social isolation among the elderly. Older adults have wisdom and perspective and lessons to share from years of living, especially those of earlier crises. Some may remember neighborhood blackouts during World War II. Others can recall treasured friends lost to the AIDS epidemic. Reminiscing has been found to be dramatically helpful with older adults, enabling them through the recollection of memories to think of strategies they used to get through other difficult times. The process can stimulate new ideas for coping, something that can come in handy in a pandemic that has shaken up our lives.

    4. Remind staff of the purposeful role they play in keeping seniors healthy, both mentally and physically. Seniors need their compassion, empathy and protection like never before. Acknowledge that the staff jobs are demanding and especially difficult right now. Show gratitude and let them know their skills and efforts are valuable and appreciated.

    5. Communication is paramount. Make it proactive, positive and provide procedural updates as well as checking in with a “Hello.” Say “Good Morning,” pay someone a compliment or just take the time to listen. A genuine interaction could change someone’s day, and just a quick knock on the door could make a difference. Take every opportunity you can to find an excuse to check on someone behind a closed door.

    6. Make mental health care easily accessible. When residents are required to stay physically isolated from others, telehealth appointments and virtual therapy are an option that’s now more available than ever. In fact, therapists have started using virtual visits widely across the country as an extension of their normal practices while they and their patients are in lockdown. This form of therapy utilizes online chats, video and telephone calls to provide remote assistance and support. A study in the journal Aging & Society showed two-thirds of older patients suffering depression and anxiety who exchanged instant messages with therapists showed improvement. Also, in Britain, a charity has been effective in running a free national 24-hour telephone helpline offering advice, support and conversation to seniors.

    7. Finally, use technology to connect emotionally. With the aid of caregivers, consider setting up an in-house Zoom meeting for residents to catch up with one another, and making sure that residents are likewise connecting with family and friends outside the community. Take advantage of free apps offering cards, backgammon, puzzles and other games that can match up players online. Online courses specially designed for seniors at local YMCAs and other groups have over-sized images or talking screens. Virtual reality tours give seniors the opportunity to travel the world from the comfort - and these days the safety - of their armchairs.

    Addressing Senior’s wellbeing does not have to be complicated; much is simply based on common sense. If someone feels alienated, help them to belong. If someone feels useless, find a sense of purpose. If someone feels isolated, build a connection. 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.