Over the past year, COVID-19 has completely transformed the world, resulting in devastating economic, physical, and psychological consequences. Leading geriatrician Dr. Visa Srinivasan says that “Seniors are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 because of their increased vulnerability to the virus. The stress from quarantine has disrupted their daily routines, and as a post-pandemic world becomes more imminent, many seniors are struggling with getting back to normal.” Nowhere is this truer than in senior living communities, where residents have had the additional challenge of being isolated from their loved ones.
How can operators evolve and adapt in this environment?
To enrich the quality of life of their residents, administrators should consider adopting these 6 strategies:
- Structure – During periods of anxiety, the brain functions better with the predictable routine. Residents need to maintain a structured routine in order to cope better with stress.
- Daily exercise – Physical exercise not only nourishes the body, but also calms the mind. Residents can go for walks around the community or join an exercise class with other residents. Make use of available technology, such as YouTube tutorials and guided exercise videos to lead residents through simple exercises that can both distract and engage them.
- Social engagement – It is important for residents to participate in their communities and stay in contact with their loved ones. Operators can schedule Zoom and/or FaceTime calls between residents and families to lower resident anxiety. Oftentimes, having a designated staff member for orchestrating these Zoom meetings is the best approach.
- Hydration – Ensure that residents stay properly hydrated to avoid unnecessary hospital visits for dehydration and constipation. Both of these conditions can lead to confusion and agitation, which inhibit a resident’s ability to enjoy their life.
- Cognitive stimulation – Residents need to be cognitively stimulated in order to prevent underlying anxieties from surfacing. Through activities such as word puzzles and brainteasers, residents can flex their brain muscles and continue to stay engaged with the community.
- Nutrition – Resuming communal dining (when regulations permit) in smaller numbers with physical distancing following CDC guidelines is helpful to remain socially interconnected. Residents could already feel isolated and bringing the meal to the room not only prevents them from social interaction, but also causes them to eat less and have a weight loss. It has been shown the seniors eat better when they have company.
An additional recommendation is to promote positivity in residents’ daily lives. This might mean that caregivers not forwarding or sharing negative news about the pandemic, and continuing to engage residents reminiscing about pleasant events in their lives and in pleasurable activities/hobbies.
Ultimately, encouragement and support from their communities can empower residents to adapt to their new norms. The 6 strategies outlined above not only help communities adapt to the changing needs of their residents, but also ensure enrich residents’ quality of life.
As we navigate out of this pandemic, let’s all work together to transition to a new sense of normalcy.
Dr. Visa Srinivasan, MD, a leading geriatrician and Director of the Health-First Aging Services, Melbourne, Florida. A recognized Alzheimer’s expert, Dr. Srinivasan completed her training & fellowship at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Cleveland, OH, and has been serving the needs of seniors and caregivers in Florida for over 17 years.