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Senior Living: Keeping Connected Through our Shared Crisis

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These are indeed unprecedented times for us all. As a professional organization that provides service to clients in the senior living realm, we are aware that site visits need to be restricted in order to minimize health risks. This, of course, is true for all visitors to your campuses: professionals, family members, friends and even delivery persons. We will continue to respect these restrictions as we fully understand the need for them and continue to hold as the highest goal the comfort, health and dignity of your residents.

During this unusual time, however, it is even more important to maintain community connections for your residents. The anxiety that we all feel is exacerbated when we are cut off from our usual community connectivity habits, our daily coffee conversations and our personal interactions with other humans. It is too easy to wrap our thoughts and actions around the physical well-being and protection of physical health and forget about the emotional toll isolation and loneliness can take.

We applaud all healthcare workers and understand the stress under which they courageously perform their work. If adding to that stress is the management of residents’ desires to remain as socially interactive with their community as they can, we have a few suggestions that could reduce some of that stress:

Now is the time to not only embrace technology, but to embrace social media. It may be viewed currently as something that will sustain the well-being of your residents during this upsetting time, but in the long run, it will be the norm for your incoming resident population cohort. Provide a physical and organizational infrastructure that supports active social networking. It is easy to complain about teenagers who would rather text their friends than simply embark on a conversation with them. In today’s new “normal”, this is what is necessary and getting an older generation involved in that necessity can help serve to break feelings of social isolation.

And it is not too late to think about the future. While these are unusual times, chances are we may see a repetition of this pandemic in another form in the future. While we hope and pray that won’t happen, let’s make sure we are prepared for it. If you are remodeling your facilities or if you are planning new facilities, add a “clean room” for social interaction or at least prepare to put one in place when necessary. The best case is that you won’t need it for a pandemic, but can utilize it when an individual resident may have need of it during their specific isolation. Provide easy access for visitors without going through resident areas. Provide finishes and furnishings that are easily sanitized but make it comfortable for residents and visitors alike. Orient your staff to its proper use and encourage your residents and their families to utilize it.

We can remain a well-connected and a stronger community by doing everything possible to eliminate social isolation even as we vigilantly protect our elderly residents’ health.

Senior Living Expert Contributor