Dear Hugs...We Miss You
If we’ve learned anything from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that we took a lot for granted. Everything from going into your favorite store and getting a haircut to spending time with loved ones and giving hugs. Restrictions are loosening up but our new reality looks very different, and let’s be honest, elbow bumps are simply not cutting it.
COVID has amplified what we in assisted living have known all along: socialization and engagement are vital to overall health. Our residents, these individuals who feel like family, were isolated from the rest of the world and the effects were written all over their faces despite our valiant efforts.
Without the vibrant activity program they were accustomed to we were seeing weight loss, some increased confusion and self isolation, even though they were able to walk freely around the building. Like many communities we did the best we could with what we had to work with, but our residents needed more.
Statistics Canada did a study on social engagement for seniors that looked at the relationship between the number of social activities seniors did and their self-perceived health, loneliness and life dissatisfaction. Not surprisingly, the study showed that the greater number of social activities a senior participates in, the higher the odds of positive self-perceived health, and the lower the odds of loneliness and life dissatisfaction.
Some of the benefits of socialization include:
- Sense of purpose and belonging
- Increased Self Confidence/Self Worth
- Improved Physical/Mental Health
In a University of Rochester Medical Center report several specific health benefits of being social were listed including:
- Potentially reduced risks for cardiovascular problems, some cancers, osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis
- Potentially reduced risks for Alzheimer’s disease
- Lower blood pressure
- Conversely, social isolation carries real risks:
- Feeling lonely and depressed
- Being less physically active
Healthcare settings are still dealing with a lot of restrictions, and we probably will be for some time. However, some have been eased or lifted, and we’re taking these gifts and running with them. We continue to be cautious, as my colleague Amanda Willer said, “We have found that with the right safety measures in place, we can continue the way we connect, gather and celebrate in our community--therefore, isolation and loneliness doesn't have to exist.”
We now host outdoor concerts, patio parties, drive through parades and have organized small group activities (less than 10, socially distanced) like BINGO, Cranium Crunches and Devotions. Families aren’t restricted to window visits but can sit with their loved ones on our front patios while wearing masks and staying six feet apart. We’re still unable to host meals in our communal dining room so we’ve implemented small, socially distanced, group breakfasts and lunches every day so that each resident can dine with friends on a regular basis.
The really beautiful thing is that resident participation is so much higher than it was even prior to the pandemic! Residents are eating more of their meals and engaging with others. We’ve witnessed even the quietest residents coming out of their shells and it’s clear that these activities and interactions were the catalyst.
It would be easy to blame COVID-19 and stick with the status quo, but we made a promise to all the families that helped their loved ones move in. We promised to take care of them and therefore have a responsibility to think outside the box and develop an activity program that enriches residents’ lives, no matter the circumstances. It may not be what we’re used to, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun!
As a community, state and nation we’re not out of the woods and things will continue to change. We will evolve and look forward to the day (hopefully soon) when we can welcome visitors into our community once again. We’ll persevere together. In the meantime...we really miss hugs!
By: Christi Losinski, Marketing Director, Lakeview Assisted Living