COVID-19 creativity: Balancing social, emotional and physical health in a pandemic

News
July 7, 2020

When Olivia Santioni heard the giggles and the screams of delight during a squirt gun fight, she said the sounds warmed her heart.

And at the end of the battle, while the participants snacked on popsicle under shaded umbrellas, she then listened to the reactions that ranged from “that was so much fun,” to “I can’t remember the last time I got to do that.”

But these weren’t kids she was watching. The water skirmish played out between seniors at Leisure Living’s Grandhaven Living Center, an assisted living and memory care community in Lansing.

“It brought all of them back to when they were young,” said Santioni, the community relations manager at Grandhaven. “It was something so simple, but there was so much joy and excitement in it because it was a way to connect with each other during a time that isn’t easy to do that.”

The activity was just one of the ways that Leisure Living communities are working to engage residents socially, emotionally and physically during the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus and resulting safety restrictions and precautions have shifted much of what the community residents can do and challenged the creativity of staff members.

Research shows that the benefits of social and physical activities and emotional engagement impact the overall health of seniors and help them experience a better overall quality of life. The data illustrates seniors have a reduced risk of heart problems, lower blood pressure, reduced rate of Alzheimer’s and improved mental health and capacity. The interactions, when coupled with a nutritious diet, have long-standing rewards.

“Big picture, we can’t do what we’ve normally done, so we have to ask ourselves how do we change an activity to make it safe for our residents,” Santioni said. “It comes from brainstorming and being clever for the benefit of our residents.”

As part of COVID-19 safety measures, Leisure Living has had to end group activities, including community dining, exercise, crafts and events designed to build and nurture relationships between residents and staff.

The 26 Leisure Living communities throughout Michigan have overcome those obstacles with new ways of having socially distanced events and 1-on-1 projects that stimulate residents.

Among the ideas communities have embraced are:

  • Creating an activity cart that staff takes to residents’ rooms with a variety of games and challenges.
  • Modifying that cart so that residents could play darts and other games together from their doorways, much like they do for bingo or movement exercises.
  • Inviting a young musician and her teacher to perform a courtyard concert, allowing guest to listen and appreciate the talent from their apartments.
  • An Easter Egg hunt that had staff who visited residents’ apartments search for goodie-filled eggs during daily tasks. If the staff found the egg, they got the snack. If not, the resident “wins” the treat.
  • Having residents garden with a staff member in the community courtyards.
  • Outdoor BBQs to celebrate summertime holidays.
  • Transforming outings to area restaurants to “innings” where the community members choose a restaurant and bring take-out to the residents.

“Our residents wanted to stay active, stay close to their friends and to be a part of each other’s lives and it is our responsibility to make sure that could happen,” Santioni said. “For us, it’s not a one-time special treat but it’s about the respect we have for the community and how we can provide enriching experiences.

“People want to move in to our communities and stay based on how much we focus on their overall health. It’s important at Leisure Living communities to find meaningful things to do and to experience every day.”

Find a Leisure Living community near you to learn more about sharing life’s journey with seniors.

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