The pandemic has forced many people to lead a more isolated lifestyle. This can lead to unpleasant emotions, mental health declines, and feelings of loneliness. Some of the people who are most at risk reside in facilities that provide care for seniors.
From January to June of 2019, the percentage of adults reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression was 11 per cent. By January 2021, that number had increased to 41.1 per cent, according to the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS).
The Ontario government put COVID-19 restrictions in place for retirement homes and long-term care facilities to ensure that COVID-19 exposure was limited as much as possible. The age of residents makes them more susceptible to the effects of the COVID-19 variants.
Seasons Retirement, a residence for retired seniors, did not have any issues with sick residents, only staff members and visitors. When the home was in ‘outbreak status,’ it significantly affected socialization for residents and family members.
The home entered this status just before Christmas break, when lots of residents were leaving to visit their loved ones, and many of them making overnight trips. Following government guidelines, any resident that had been gone for 24 hours or longer was required to isolate until they received a negative test.
Depending on the amount of time it took to receive test results, residents could be in isolation for anywhere from 10 to 14 days. If residents had just moved in, they were required to isolate for two weeks regardless.
They were restricted to only two essential visitors during this time (emergency contacts, close family, power of attorney). Visits with those essential visitors were limited to a maximum of two hours.
The situation was difficult for the families of the residents as well. Before the provincial restrictions, visitors could come and go as they pleased and spend as much time as they wanted with their family.
Seasons took action to ensure residents felt as comfortable as possible during the difficult time, when restrictions included the closure of group meals and activities, something that the residents looked forward to.
Erica Boer, the home’s ‘fun’ manager, organized numerous activities to lift the residents’ spirits, also using technology to keep residents and families connected.
“I have to get creative to provide programming and ensure residents are not completely isolated or bored while also following COVID-19 protocols,” said Boer. “One of the biggest adapted recreation programs for COVID-19 restrictions are traveling carts. I did weekly activity carts where I would visit with the residents and bring them a treat.”
“We did a Hawaiian theme where I dressed up in my hula skirt and Hawaiian shirt and served fresh fruit and Hawaiian cocktails door-to-door. The residents were entertained by me and some of them even sat in their doorways across the hall from each other to enjoy their treats,” said Boer.
A report from the National Seniors Council (NSC) showed that almost half of Canadians aged 80 or older reported feelings of loneliness at some point in their lifetime, suggesting that this problem is not isolated to elder care facilities, but the restrictions made these feelings more difficult to express and cope with.
Boer explained how technology plays a key role to keep residents connected, especially during the pandemic. She often assisted residents when using programs to video chat with their families. Cubigo has also been a great resource for Boer.
“Staff, residents, families, and visitors are all connected through this. This is how families book visits with residents and keep up-to-date on information in our home,” said Boer. “The most unique part of our Cubigo software is that I am able to broadcast YouTube videos and activities to a channel on their TVs in their suites.”
Boer says she shows a different exercise video every morning for the residents. Some of the favourites are chair yoga, Pilates, tai chi, and mindful meditations. This software also allows residents to participate in Bingo where they can win prizes, which gives them something to look forward to each day.
“Another activity I offered for our more artistic residents was step-by-step painting classes. I would deliver the painting supplies and canvas to their suites, and they would follow a step-by-step painting class that was broadcast to their TVs. We then displayed their paintings downstairs for everyone to see,” said Boer.
As the government’s pandemic restrictions loosen, residents are now able to resume small group activities. The dining hall has also reopened.
“This has really boosted the residents’ engagement and mental health as they are not feeling quite as restricted and isolated,” said Boer.