If you’d asked someone in February to describe the worst-possible philosophy for a senior living community, they might have said “social distancing.” What could be more damaging than physically separating people who get joy and fulfillment from everyday interactions?
The answer, it turns out, is COVID-19, which has upended so many good practices in senior living communities. Communal dinners, group yoga, dance classes, and even the consoling squeeze of a resident’s hand are out of bounds for the foreseeable future.
Fortunately, there are ways to keep residents connected and engaged without breaching the rules of social distancing. Here are a few ideas:
Thanks to modern technology, social distancing doesn’t mean the end of socializing. In fact, seniors confined to quarters are likely to spend more time than ever on their social networks and communications apps.
With this kind of attentive audience, it makes sense to up the frequency of your own social media posts. But don’t restrict your updates to CDC guidelines and other virus-related news. This is a time for heartwarming stories, quirky videos and, yes, cat pics. Are your cherry trees in blossom? Post some photos. If your residents can’t go to the garden, bring the garden to them.
You can also use technology to take your scheduled group activities online. Movie Night can become Netflix Night, with residents voting on a movie, streaming it simultaneously, and then sharing their thoughts on Facebook.
Virtual learning is another area where quarantine can present opportunities as well as challenges. If your residents can’t go to the kitchen, garden, or have friends round for supper, that may give them more time to take an online horticulture or cookery course.
What’s more, they can probably do it for free. E-learning platforms like Coursera and Udemy have responded to the pandemic by dropping their fees for popular courses. Celebrity chefs are posting daily recipe videos on YouTube, alongside Hollywood actors reciting Shakespeare.
Your task is to curate and organize all this content, so that residents know where to find it. As for your in-house classes, think about how you can take them online. Anyone with a smartphone and a connection can make a 30-minute video and upload it to YouTube. If you want something with higher production values, talk to a content studio or marketing agency.
If you’re taking bingo games and book clubs online, why not your fitness classes too? Most seniors find that daily exercise is essential to their physical and mental wellbeing, so prolonged inactivity is a health risk, not just an inconvenience.
There are basically two kinds of online fitness classes: one-to-one and pre-recorded. In a one-to-one class, the instructor and participant work together in real time via a video link. The advantage of this method is that the instructor can tailor the routine to the participant’s needs, but it’s less convenient than a pre-recorded class, which you can stream on YouTube at any time.
When dreaming up new ways to connect with your residents, be sure to discuss your plans with them in advance and get their feedback. Ask what they miss most about their normal routines, then think of creative ways to weave these pleasures into “contactless” experiences. With a little imagination and plenty of flexibility, you may be surprised at what you can achieve.