By Lorie Ham
This has been a difficult year not only because of the fear of getting COVID-19, but the isolation has been very difficult for some as well. Many have been lucky enough to be isolated with family members, and some are now back at work so may interact with people there, however, for a large number of the elderly it has been especially hard, whether they live on their own or in a retirement community.
My mother in law has a third-floor apartment in a retirement community and until very recently hasn’t been able to leave that apartment since the first lockdown–now they are allowing short, scheduled outside visits. Her physical needs have been attended to and she has her dog, but it has been hard for her. Not being internet savvy, she hasn’t been able to take advantage of video calls, but she has at least been able to talk on the phone. My mother is in another retirement community but her apartment is on the ground floor so we have been able to chat with her outside with sufficient distance and masks after the initial full lockdown was lifted, as well as doing video calls.
Mennonite Aid Insurance Manager Jerry Linscheid has been trying to do what he can for his father who also resides in a retirement community. His father had just lost his wife in November so hadn’t really adjusted yet to being alone when Covid hit. “This has been a big change on top of a big change. The rules in place are designed to keep COVID at bay, but that translates into little or no contact with people. It seems really tragic that when people need visits and hugs, that is not possible now and may not be for months to come.”
For his father, not being one who has embraced technology either, most contact has been through phone calls—Jerry calls him every day. The only times his father has left the building have been to visit the doctor. However, he does get exercise by walking the hallways and the stairs of the 3-story building with a mask on, at times when he feels he is least likely to run into anyone.
Retirement communities are doing all they can to help the people who live there. Caitlin Gipson, Marketing Consultant at Sierra View Homes in Reedley, CA, shared some of the things they are doing to combat loneliness in their residents. More info can be found on their website.
- Daily check-in chats with apartment residents when delivering meals
- Visits from our Chaplain for prayer/connection
- Hallway exercise classes
- Individual enrichment activities: adult coloring, word searches, crosswords, writing, drawing, painting
- Playing games with our residents (dominoes, tic-tac-toe, hangman, chess, checkers)
- Walks to enjoy the sunshine
- Zoom/Facetime with families
- Zoom/Facetime visits with doctors (whenever necessary)
- Picking flowers
- Custom music headsets as part of our Music Project
- Interactions with pets
Palm Village Executive Director Jim Higbee shared that they are doing many of the same things for their residents. Palm Village is also located in Reedley. “Our Activities team and Social Services team have really been amazing through all of this. They have assisted residents with Zoom calls, Facetime/Duo calls, celebrating birthdays in an extra special way, morning wheel chair strolls around the campus, physically distanced small group activities and most importantly, daily interaction, conversation, and reassurance.”
Residents can leave their rooms to see other residents and are encouraged to wear masks when leaving their rooms. They have also been having virtual religious services streamed through their closed circuit channel. At the very end of June, there was guidance from the state health department regarding resuming visitation with strict guidelines. “We began having outdoor visits in early July under the new guidelines.”
While this isolation has impacted the mental health and well-being of Palm Village residents, Higbee feels they have fared much better overall than they initially feared. “Especially as this has gone on much longer than anyone initially anticipated. Our residents have done quite well and all the credit goes to our staff.”
Higbee stated that they are also appreciative of all the support and understanding they have received from families and residents, as well as the larger community. “Without all of the prayers and support, we would not be doing as well as we are.”
Many seniors and others who live on their own don’t have this type of support available to them, but there are ways for them to cope with the isolation. They too can take advantage of video calls or phone calls to family and friends. There are also places that have free or discounted food delivery services for those who can’t drive to the grocery store and can’t afford regular delivery costs. Some internet companies are providing discounted internet during this time. You can find other tips on how to survive the isolation by searching online. If you have a family member or friend in this situation, consider calling them more often and doing video calls where possible. If we work together, we can survive this difficult time.