This article is specific to the time when visitation at senior living communities is restricted due to the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic.
Older adults living in senior communities are usually expected to have family nearby to support their loved one. This family support is very important for the well-being of these older adults. Right now, most senior living communities have instituted very strict visitor restrictions because of the COVID-19 virus. The public health initiatives to stop its spread require such restrictions; the virus is particularly catastrophic for older adults. Imposing strict rules to avoid a potentially disastrous situation makes a lot of sense.
Care managers are among those who cannot visit, yet much of the support we provide is best done in person. Like families, we worry about our clients. But with a little creative thinking, we can use other means to support our clients.
Here are some techniques we are using, and we encourage you to use any ideas that pertain to your caregiving situation.
We use alternative ways to communicate. If a client is able to use the phone, we can make telephone calls to check in with clients. If our client is comfortable with technology, we can utilize video conferencing software such as FaceTime, Skype, or Zoom to have a video call. It might be possible to work with a staff member to facilitate a video call, if a client is not tech-savvy. Most folks get the idea of the video call when they’re in a video call. Setting it up is the tricky part.
Thankfully, good old-fashioned mail is still available. There’s nothing like a personalized letter or card to cheer someone up or encourage them! One way to make it a little more special is to tuck in a little surprise; choose something small and flat that doesn’t require extra postage. Some examples include:
- A photo
- A clipped article or comic strip
- An individually-wrapped tea bag
- A bookmark
- Postage stamps
- An origami sculpture
- A puzzle such as a crossword puzzle, search-a-word, or sudoku
Letters and cards can be read over and over again. Mailing will make a big impact when it is consistent, so we encourage you to mail a card or letter every week.
The United States Postal Service published their statement on Coronavirus on March 22, 2020. It states: “… the CDC, the World Health Organization, as well as the Surgeon General have indicated that there is currently no evidence that COVID-19 is being spread through the mail.” (USPS Statement on Coronavirus, about.usps.com, retrieved 3/28/20)
Work with Staff
If phone communication is difficult for an older loved one, the staff at the community becomes the main way to find out how the older adult is doing. Staff will be busy, and family or the care manager should expect to initiate phone calls.
Work with the staff to determine how to complete any needed support. Much of it can probably still be done by developing alternative methods. Instead of managing the resident’s mail in person in her apartment, ask the staff to collect the mail, and have it at the front desk to be picked up. Instead of taking a pet to the groomer, arrange for a mobile grooming service. Staff members may have suggestions that have worked for other residents. Collaboration and inventiveness can usually come up with a clever solution.
Send Supplies and Gifts
In this day of Internet ordering and delivery, almost anything can be ordered and sent. We can order supplies or gifts and have them shipped. We can use local providers (for example, for groceries) or national ones like Amazon.
Staff might need to be involved in the delivery, though. Opening the shipping box may be difficult for the older adult.
When the community’s usual activities are on hiatus and staff focuses mainly on caregiving, boredom can become a big problem. Again, creative problem solving can help your loved one or client stay busy. Family and care managers have the advantage of knowing their loved ones or clients well, and may be able to help with personalized gifts. Some examples might be:
- Reading material (books, magazines, etc.)
- Audio material, such as music or recorded books
- Videos and movies
- Craft projects and supplies
- Board games and jigsaw puzzles
As you can see, in-person visits are not always required to give support and encouragement to older adults in senior communities. Social distancing will not last forever, but while it lasts, we can exercise our creativity to keep clients feeling loved.