The current COVID-19 pandemic is rapidly transforming the senior care industry, and those changes are stressful for both residents and their families. With the implication of social distancing, families cannot visit their loved ones in facilities. This prompts fear, uncertainty, and stress, but facilities can maintain an active role to not only keep residents reassured, but to also reassure their families.
Take Proactive Steps
The more proactive that facilities can be, the better prepared they’ll be to reduce some of the concerns that families and residents can experience with social distancing. Mike McClernon, Senior Living Advisor and Owner of Assisted Living Locators of Long Island, has witnessed how senior care facilities are fighting against COVID-19 in his own community.
“It’s a life and death battle within senior communities to keep the virus out, and most Long Island senior communities are winning the battle. They are doing what’s necessary to keep seniors safe, and given the level of disease and infection prevalent in our area we would have to judge their efforts as generally quite successful. The visitation prohibition will not last, and opportunities to very cautiously see our seniors again will gradually restart,” explains McClernon.
“In the meantime, set up a call schedule for multiple family members to connect with seniors. Everybody has time for a call right now. Seniors love predictability – set up calls every day at 10 and 3 (but not during Wheel, of course),” McClernon recommends. Knowing that they’ll speak with each other at the same time daily can reassure both families and seniors.
Technology can also help families to stay connected, and connecting through video can be particularly reassuring because families can see their loved ones for themselves. “Some senior communities are setting up various meeting apps, like Zoom, Go to Meeting, and Facetime,” says McClernon. “If you have access to that, then of course jump on it.”
Facilities can encourage families to connect with seniors in other ways, too. Families can mail seniors letters and photos, and they can bring care packages of snacks, books, toiletries, and games that their loved ones will enjoy.
Even with a regular call schedule, McClernon cautions that facilities should be prepared for complaints from residents. “They are in their room or apartment 23 hours a day, so naturally there will be issues with the remaining items that they can control, especially food. Listen to every issue, try to deflect the small stuff, and bring significant issues to the community’s leadership. They will address what they can. Remember that there is a baseline of frustration in all senior communities now, and it is up to families to help keep a reasonable perspective where possible,” McClernon recommends.
Establish Regular Communication with Families
Establishing communication channels with families can help to reassure them and lets them feel connected not only with their loved ones, but also with the facility and staff. “Proactive and very regular communication is an area in which Senior Communities could probably improve,” notes McClernon. “Families look forward to a regular communication pattern as much as seniors. Some communities are starting to do regular recorded updates sent out by telephone or computer. A few are using live applications like Zoom and Facetime to make their staff available for questions and interaction, either as a group or with individual families.
“As the day-to-day business of running a senior facility under quarantine becomes more routine, I would expect that communities will begin to find time to proactively and regularly report on conditions within the facility, particularly on any infections. It’s critical, in fact, as we prepare for months of danger to seniors on Long Island,” McClernon explains.
Moving Forward with Social Distancing
While facilities may do their best to facilitate communication and connection between residents and families, McClernon notes that expectations need to be reasonable, too.
“Communication is not the same from six feet away, let alone from outside the building. Many facilities are setting up video links of various types for seniors, and I have found that most are making every effort to return calls from family members as quickly as possible. Remember, though, facilities are mainly focused on one thing right now – keeping the virus controlled. No senior is getting the experience they expected, and all are frustrated. Family members need to do their part by helping manage their expectations and those of their senior.”
Social distancing poses many challenges in senior care facilities. With a proactive approach, facilities can help to keep residents and their families connected, reassuring both during this uncertain and uncharted time.