The COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything about the lives of aging adults. As senior living communities began adapting to the new normal, the coronavirus pandemic quickly unearthed ways we could be better enriching the lives of our residents – through customized and person-centered care.
Even in normal times, it can be daunting to find a reputable, safe, and experienced senior living community for ourselves or our loved ones. But now more than ever, it’s important to seek a residence that keeps its occupants physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy. Engaging with seniors in a way that not only sustains their livelihood but actually enriches it is imperative to their overall health. This necessary focus is why we created our Enhanced Enrichment Program.
Every resident should be treated as an individual with unique needs, taking into account their past, personal interests, hobbies, mental health status, and even favorite foods. Senior living communities should continuously take pride in personally getting to know each resident and ensuring there are engaging activities – and the appropriate care – necessary for them to flourish. These unprecedented times brought to light just how important personalized care is, as senior living homes were mandated by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to close our doors to the outside world for months. We found that our commitment to enrichment was incredibly impactful when it came to lessening the risk of heightened anxiety and loneliness.
Naturally, no one gives more personalized care than families, but during COVID-19, outside visits to assisted living communities fell dramatically to keep residents safe from the virus. To combat this, we found it critical to provide both individual and group enrichment activities alongside daily one-on-one check-ins to assess physical, mental, and emotional fatigue. Even when the pandemic is long over, these practices will have long term benefits on the mental health and wellbeing of seniors.
Residents are eager to engage in enriching and rewarding activities but ensuring there is underlying clinical support is equally imperative. The program we designed, the Enhanced Enrichment Program, aims to keep residents happy, healthy, and emotionally fulfilled through fun and customized daily activities as well as provide necessary health care.
One of our current residents adores being outside, taking trips, and seeing the local Portsmouth community. During the state-mandated quarantine, our staff needed to keep her safe on the property. We brought her outside more, coordinating times each day to ensure her safety. We also conducted hallway exercises with her and helped her do daily tasks. Going that extra mile with residents has become increasingly important as we continue to enrich our residents’ lives.
Everyone gets bored doing the same thing every day. During quarantine, it was nearly impossible to allow activities outside of the home that kept residents safe from getting sick, so we needed to get creative. For example, hallway exercise. Our team brought chairs and sat outside each resident’s doorway for or one-on-one exercise classes. We’ve also done hallway bingo, with speakers at the end of the hallway and disposable cards. Trivia and book clubs were conducted by phone, and to fulfill the highly anticipated social hour we delivered beverages to each room using out beverage cart. Before, during and after the pandemic, switching up daily activities is imperative as it keeps residents engaged and excited for what each day brings. As the Director of Resident Engagement, my team and I drive engagement and enrichment among residents with events that keep the mind and body sharp.
Social hour, movie nights, art classes, physical exercise, mind and memory exercises, music classes and more are just a sampling of what is on our rotating calendar. Each activity is created with each resident’s interests as well as their mental and physical stimulation needs in mind.
According to the World Health Organization, over 20% of adults over 60 struggle with mental illness or neurological disorders, underscoring the importance of engagement for regular monitoring. The key to keeping residents engaged and experiencing the benefits of personalized care on a long-term basis is thorough documentation, accounting for their daily participation, feelings, and behavior.
In our senior living community, the enrichment staff documents key information such as: how often a resident participates in group activities, how social they’ve been, how they’re feeling day-to-day, and if they have exhibited any unusual behavior, positive or negative. With consistent documentation, we can view ongoing trends for each resident and design enrichment activities for their needs.
New Hampshire has the second oldest population in the country and with the cold winter months ahead, it’s important to start planning for the next step now. Senior living is more than nurse check-ups and bingo – it is meant to be a rich and fulfilling lifestyle in the Granite State.
This article originally appeared in Seacoast Online, view it here: https://www.seacoastonline.com/story/lifestyle/health-fitness/2020/10/29/opinion-enriching-seniors-lives-during-coronavirus-pandemic/6060881002/