A roundup of ideas and recommendations for senior living teams to consider during extended periods of resident isolation

March 24, 2020

By: Cindy Phillips, K4Advisors Managing Partner

I am not going to start this blog with some list of statistics about seniors and the effects of social isolation, everyone in senior living already knows this well. And now we know how it feels ourselves as we separate from our co-workers and loved ones, unable to enjoy the normal freedoms we are accustomed to. It almost sounds like the emotions of retirement or moving to a long-term care facility?

I recently joined K4Connect, after retiring in 2019 as Executive Director of a large not-for-profit CCRC in Pennsylvania. Relegated to a spectator right now, I am so proud to watch the incredible job the industry providers are doing to protect the physical health of their residents and staff. Kudos to all of you!

I feel like we’re in the second phase of response now, as many of you work to define some new and creative ways to address other dimensions of wellness, specifically the mental and social well-being of residents. Considering all of the activity cancellations and the increased restrictions on dining, we must put as much effort into combating the long-term anxiety, fatigue, and depression that will come with this pandemic.

Let’s jump right into what we can do to help design a new “normal” for your community members. I will offer some ideas through the lens of Dr. Bill Thomas’s three plagues faced by elders as defined in the Eden Alternative philosophy. 

This philosophy has always been a grounding point for me and seems especially relevant during this difficult time:

Loneliness

1- Connecting residents to family & friends – Activity and social services teams, do continue to be creative with helping residents use their own devices to do “virtual visiting” with Skype, Instagram, Facetime, Duo, or What’s App. Also, learn from other community best practices, like several K4Connect operators that are rotating shared devices for residents without personal devices, or who may need additional assistance, to use our Video “Chat” feature to connect with loved ones.

2- An idea to improve resident-to-resident connection – Use those volunteers you had to send home to call and/or write letters to residents living in Assisted or Healthcare (Who doesn’t love mail?!). Calls could be to interview them, maybe even for a spotlight newsletter article for a collection of feel-good stories to share with community residents and family members. If your volunteers are also residents, what a great activity to foster more connections through this effort.

3- We all love to look at photos – Pull out some old ones or create a new project! Teams can still involve residents while maintaining isolation protocols, like making a “big card to my neighbors” and having a staff member take photos of individual residents sharing their sign or card. K4Connect-enabled communities can easily share through the Resident App, Digital Signage or TV insertion channel.  

4- Leverage our older adult’s affinity for our military – Have residents write letters to service men and women, or even their own family members deployed around the world. Capture the activity in photos and share on your social accounts to show how your community is finding ways to stay creative and engaged.

5- We know residents get very attached to their caregivers, servers, housekeepers, landscapers and maintenance workers – In a time when only essential staff is allowed in resident areas, find ways for them to be seen in some other way. Let residents see they are okay; this is another opportunity to leverage photo-sharing through Digital Signage and directly in the K4Community Resident App.

Helplessness

6- Interactive content such as relaxation or music via Alexa Voice or the K4Community App – We’ve made this one easy for K4Connect communities and it is such fun! Through the YouTube playlist feature in the K4Community App, we have curated and preloaded a playlist of more than 50 videos residents can enjoy via the application, including landscapes, classic films, music performances and world museum tours. Residents with personal Alexa devices can also access a number of entertaining content.

7- Enabling access to a community Hotline of information via telephone or Alexa voice command – Providing more sources for your community-specific information and can help curb worrying about what the news anchors and reporters are sharing about the global crisis that might not apply to them. We have offered this free service for K4Connect customers and made the hotline accessible via resident Alexa devices.

8- Reminding ourselves that helplessness is often about “lack of choice” – While in our limited mode, let’s try our best to give options for meals, activities and daily routine to give residents a variety of even simple things to look forward to.

Boredom

9- Never more thankful for TV – Take advantage of free streaming content and movie replays that are being made available. YouTube streaming through SmartTVs is another helpful tool; you can live stream wellness classes, spiritual services, or life-long learning classes on devices or on TV.

10- Virtualizing game activity – Can you play bingo or have a scavenger hunt in virtual ways across your campus? Each community is unique, but I have no doubt you can find creative ways to involve your residents in friendly games and competition. Alexa has a variety of 1-1 games residents can play, as well as trivia or reading a story. For K4Community deployed Alexa, we have uploaded a number of new games including Guess the Price, Twenty Questions and Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

11- Find new routines – If this truly lasts “months” we need to create an environment that feels like the “old” way of life. We should still build calendars or newsletters for daily or weekly activities, movies, etc. Keep publishing menus, albeit limited, as we know that is an important part of everyday life in senior living.

I know under normal conditions, you all would have the energy and time to think of all these ideas, but this blog was meant to jump-start your thinking or spark even more creativity. Let’s not let this virus ruin the good work your activities, wellness, nursing, dining, spiritual care and therapeutic recreation teams do every day to improve the quality of life of older adults. 

If you have technical questions or have additional ideas to share, our team at K4Connect is here to help – call us at 855-876-9673 or reach out to support@k4connect.com. We’re here to serve!