For residents at Villa Toscana at Cypress Woods and Pathways Memory Care, visitation has been restricted since mid-March as a safety precaution, according to Lifetime Wellness Area Wellness Director Eileen Plunk, who works with both facilities. In addition, Plunk said the facilities also implemented staff and resident screening and canceled group activities until further notice. Although these measures were taken out of an abundance of caution for the safety of residents, Plunk said senior citizens can be susceptible to the negative effects of social distancing and quarantine.
“This population is already one that is at high risk for isolation, depression and loneliness,” Plunk said in an email. “When you layer on the suspension of visitors and social activities, those risks increase significantly. Given the culmination of these frequent and sudden changes, our Lifetime Wellness staff have been working tirelessly to not only ensure we are following the necessary procedures to protect our residents, but also to continue to be the shining light our residents and staff need to boost morale and remain positive.”
Plunk said staff members have gotten creative to engage residents by hosting games such as Hallway Bingo, where staff call out Bingo numbers to residents in their rooms, and themed “Parties on Wheels,” in which a staff member delivers snacks and beverages to residents' doors.
Plunk said staff have also used digital platforms to help residents stay connected with their family members while visitation is at a halt.
“Just the other day, one resident was able [to] take part in a group video chat with her children, one of whom resides in Houston while the other resides in New York,” Plunk said. “Another resident celebrated her 93rd birthday while getting to see and hear her family sing ‘Happy Birthday’ through the iPad.”
Plunk said she also hopes to connect residents to the larger community with a new digital initiative in which community members will be able to virtually volunteer with residents through online platforms.
“Students may want to share their dance performance now that their recital has been canceled, or maybe a young child wants to practice their reading skills by reading a story to a resident,” Plunk said. “Perhaps someone just wants to engage in prayer or light-hearted conversation.”
Rae Martin, a licensed vocational nurse at New Haven Assisted Living in Spring said the facility has also been leaning on technology to help residents and families keep in touch.
“I email the families, a few times a week, at least every other day to keep them updated on new updates for the coronavirus and activities going on in the building,” Martin said. “I send them pictures; we pretty well keep in touch. It's like a huge family here.”
However, should families need more than virtual conversations over video, Martin said families can also visit and see loved ones through residents’ windows.
“Families can come and stand outside of the window, [and] the resident will stand on the other side of the window,” Martin said. “Both of them will have a phone, so they can still talk to each other and see each other."
According to Martin, residents and their families are adapting to the new norm.
“We like to ensure that our activities are continuous, and that everything is well-planned out,” Martin said. “We strive for a very peaceful home environment. So everything is actually going very well. Our families are very understanding and supportive.”
Other senior living facilities are coordinating events to raise residents’ spirits, such as Avanti Senior Living at Augusta Pines which put on a parade for families to visit their loved ones from a distance, as previously reported by Community Impact Newspaper.
"During these crazy times that we're facing in the world, we're just constantly trying to find new ways to keep our residents positive," Executive Director Justin Roth said. "The hardest piece about this is for the families because they're not able to see their loved ones. So we just wanted them to be able to see their families face-to-face but in a safe way."
While the parade was a new event that the facility is considering making a recurring event, Roth said residents have also been able to communicate with families digitally, an option that was available even before the outbreak as every resident who enters Avanti Senior Living receives an iPad.
According to Roth, residents have been transitioning well, despite the changes.
"They're all 70-80 years old, and this is not the first time they've been through something like this in their lives ... so I think mentally, they were prepared for this already," Roth said. "I've been really impressed with the residents as far as their willingness to accept what it is, they've been very positive throughout all of this as well and it's just been a refreshing sense of community. We've had more residents coming to participate in activities, which is really cool to see."
Hannah Zedaker contributed to this report.