The COVID-19 pandemic has had countless negative consequences. Over 150,000 Americans have lost their lives, and millions of others have become sick. Many people have lost their jobs and thousands are on the brink of losing their homes. It’s a stressful time for almost everyone.
Caring for CCRC residents, physically and emotionally
This has been a challenging time for those living in senior living communities, as well. You’ve likely read the headlines about the nursing homes that have experienced COVID-19 outbreaks among residents. This led many continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs or life plan communities) and other senior living communities to go into near-lockdown, prohibiting residents from leaving or visitors from entering in hopes of preventing the virus from hitting their community.
And it has been an effective strategy for the most part, quelling the number of senior living residents who have become ill. But it also has been emotionally trying for many residents who are feeling like captives in their own homes, isolated from friends and family.
I wrote a few months ago now about resilience among CCRC residents, especially those living in independent living. These uplifting stories are heartening examples of both the endurance and the compassion of senior living residents, even during difficult times.
But there are other beacons of hope amid the pandemic as well, as evidenced by the exceptional work being done by the staff of many CCRCs to keep their residents healthy while also nurturing their minds, bodies, and spirits.
Finding creative ways to engage
I’ve truly been impressed by the innovative and creative ways many CCRCs are finding to interact with their residents and keep them physically active and involved with the community while maintaining a safe distance. While some communities may do a better job of this than others, the value of such life enrichment programs at retirement communities is proving more valuable than ever before.
For example, I recently learned about some of the unique programs John Knox Village, a CCRC in Pompano Beach, Florida, has created for their residents during the pandemic. The community has 800 independent living residents, as well as another 200 in a care-based setting. Before the onset of COVID-19, John Knox provided their residents over 400 programs and events each month — some on-campus and others off-site.
But since the pandemic restricted visitors and off-campus travel, a top goal of the community’s management has been to keep their residents active and engaged, and stave off feelings of isolation. They’ve had to create outside-the-box ideas for resident lifelong learning, exercise, and entertainment opportunities…that all maintain proper social distancing. And they have come through in grand fashion.
Taking advantage of technology
One factor in John Knox’s favor was that even prior to the pandemic, they had a full-time technology coordinator on their life enrichment staff. The pandemic has been this team member’s opportunity to shine!
While many seniors are quite tech-savvy, some people (of all ages!) feel intimidated by technology. So, John Knox’s team created a number of instructional videos for residents on how to use tools like FaceTime, YouTube, and Zoom. Once residents felt comfortable with these programs, the sky was the limit.
Management, as well as residents, began initiating virtual birthday parties, virtual book clubs, virtual continuing education lectures, and virtual fitness classes. They have been able to share virtual museum tours, art classes, and other entertainment programming — some pre-recorded and some live.
Around three-quarters of John Knox’s independent living residents have technology devices like smartphones, tablets, and/or computers, so these virtual enrichment options are well-suited to this CCRC. But the less technically inclined residents have not been left behind.
The community’s life enrichment team has been creating a weekly “brain book,” which includes things like brain games and crossword puzzles. The community also has an in-house television channel on which they have shared entertaining and educational programming. They have continued socially distanced outdoor enrichment activities like music in courtyards and some exercise classes, as well.
>> Related: The Value of Community at a CCRC
A cautious return to normalcy
A big draw of the CCRC lifestyle is the sense of community felt by residents. Admittedly, the pandemic has put a damper on this aspect of the CCRC experience, but communities are finding imaginative ways to create some sense of normalcy and nurture camaraderie among residents.
At John Knox Village, they are slowly and carefully working toward a safe reopening. For example, they have been delivering meals to residents’ homes throughout the pandemic, but they are now beginning the process of reopening their dining rooms with strict social distancing protocols. They also are starting to allow some small group activities with 10 or fewer residents.
The community’s spirit of solidarity and resilience has endured throughout the precautionary shutdowns, thanks in part to the excellent efforts of their life enrichment team and other staff members.
And this is but one example of the great work being done at CCRCs across the country right now. I’ve heard about communities that are doing monthly wine-tastings in residents’ homes, coordinating socially-distanced sing-alongs, and organizing parades where residents show their appreciation for the CCRC’s staff, complete with handmade signs and cheering.
All of this showcases not only the resiliency of CCRC residents, but also the care and creativity that the CCRC staff puts into keeping residents happy, healthy, and engaged, while simultaneously nurturing a strong sense of community. They want to ensure that their residents aren’t just surviving during this turbulent period — but they are continuing to thrive.
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