A recent webinar hosted by Senior Housing Needs (SHN) in the US recently, shone the spotlight on what was being done to combat isolation and loneliness among the older people community, and what innovative ideas have been working well.

This was put together and streamed to millions over the globe to highlight the focus on wellness for the body, mind, and spirit, especially during the COVID-19 crisis, when it is needed more than ever.

Some initiatives that focus on this were presented during the webinar from Tim Carpenter, Founder/CEO of EngAGE, Darin Leonardson, of Culinary Operations and Kristen Schooley, Director of Wellness at Montreau.

They stressed that a focus on wellness throughout the community can bring residents and staff closer together, while also giving family members peace of mind.

Kristen Schooley, Director of Wellness at Montreau, says the company is bringing more technology into their wellness centres and into resident centres and homes.

“Our televised fitness programmes are available to residents everywhere they happen to be. We have also found a wealth of resources on YouTube. These are classes that are perfect for our demographic,” she says. “Thanks largely to COVID, we have been kind of forced to create our own YouTube channel because of the huge demand. We have recorded our own fitness classes. It also brings interaction into the lives of our target audience.

She says that they are trying to be as creative as possible about their programming, so they have also included some Facebook content as well.

“There is a 5-10-minute wellness video on different health topics and different fitness techniques. I must admit that not a lot of residents participate in the programmes, but their families do! They see it as vital that they know as much as possible about ailments and illnesses, so they are well prepared to support their loved ones.

“We’re also using Zoom and the way that we are using that fitness is called the Wellness Exchange. This provides the content to our in-house TV channel and Facebook. Now we’re trying a more interactive experience with residents. A wellness expert provides a 10-minute presentation on a wellness topic and we’ll engage the residents to participate and ask questions. It also helps people engage with people, which is desperately needed. They haven’t been able to see and talk to people from ‘the outside’ for a while because of the lockdown, so this really helps.”

Kristen says they aim to have it as a weekly programme and depending on the response, may extend it to twice a week.

The email blast

She also talks about the Virtual Vitality e-mail blast.

“We needed to create this to keep in touch with residents since the start of the pandemic. Every day at 8am our residents and staff receive the e-mail. It honours all the dimensions of wellness, it’s warm and hearty and geared to uplift. We incorporate all our fitness programming that we use on all our platforms as well. With ‘the blast’ they can use their laptop, desktop computer, TV, phone, whatever they are comfortable with. This has proven to be very popular.”

She says they do, however, realise that there are residents who are not technology-savvy and in these instances, they publish a daily newsletter called The Daily Dose. Although it has been a challenge to deliver fitness in a written format, they have been able to get people to exercise with very easy-to-follow instructions.

They also highlight the Scavenger Hunt, which, she says, has been something very positive to emerge from the pandemic.

“One of our residents suggested that while they are walking around in the sunshine (very important, Vitamin D), people take pictures in the vicinity of where they are walking, mail the pictures to the other walkers and organise a scavenger hunt. The walkers will then have to find whatever has been pictured. Residents love this and it really is a fun incorporation into our programme.

Creativity and fitness

“This combines creativity with fitness, so it keeps the mind agile and the body exercised. It’s a great way to lift the spirits.”

She says that people with dementia or early onset Alzheimer’s have found that any change in the routine has been a big obstacle.

“We have used this resource to ease them gently into our programmes. We go on walks with these folks and encourage conversations. We naturally don’t get into anything very physical. It’s just that personal touch which has proved to be a vital part of our programming.

“At our main fitness centre which caters for seniors, we fit four people into the pool and four into our exercise area, so we adhere to social distancing rules. They are required to wear masks to the centre but can take them off while exercising or swimming.”

 

The mystery dish

Darin Leonardson, of Culinary Operations, says that their aim is to engage with residents as a priority.

“If you’re holed up in your room, we thought about what we could do to feed that resident and make them feel happier at the same time. So, for instance, we made pineapple ginger smoothies. Ginger stimulates the appetite, it aids the digestion and it makes the food exciting and fresh. The people love this!

“The chefs also asked how we could use food to combat cabin fever during isolation. How do we engage the mind and the senses, they asked? We decided to come up with a mystery dish every week. So, say the chef made a coconut chicken curry. We gave the residents a list of 17 ingredients and ask them to tick off what they thought the chef had used. They could call the neighbours, or whoever, much like ‘phone a friend’ in popular TV game shows. The prize would be chocolates, or a surprise gift of some sort. This has proved to be a huge success!”

Involvement in the arts

Tim Carpenter, of EngAGE, says his team creates wellness programming.

“We started this initiative some 20 years ago and now provide programming for 57 buildings involving 1 000 seniors, a few hundred families including children, so we’re in a multi-generational situation.”

The most well-known programmes involves the arts.

“I wanted to create a programme for low-income seniors. We focused on a few major ideas – one was we started hiring professional teachers to teach painting. We would then show off all the seniors’ work at a special event. The residents would talk about their painting, what inspired them, and so on. It really is a fantastic way of engaging people.

“What is so important is to create motivation for the residents for them to be able to impart something that is important to them, larger than themselves and a creation that is vital and alive. You have no idea what this does for the heart and mind!”

He says they also have art studios and they will encourage residents to visit them again when lockdown measures are lifted. Tim is also passionate about the various arts colonies in cities. These are places where people can go and learn arts skills and feel proud of belonging to a community.

Changing mindsets

“We’ve also produced for many years a radio show called Experience Talk, a live show where people talk about their work in front of an audience. Seniors love this! It’s all about pushing art out of the box and making it cool. You know, I have never understood why ageing is not considered cool. It just does not make any sense to me. This is one way of changing mindsets, believe me! It is ‘best practice’ in creative ageing!”

He says that because they work in independent senior housing, one important aim to create behaviour change around things like learning and arts connectivity so people can stay independent longer in affordable housing.

“Our programmes have developed improved health and reduced isolation. We have also increased the amount of food delivery. We have trained people on hand to be able to help if this is what is needed. Residents feel catered to and cared about in this very strange time we are living in.

Social connection vital

“Social connection is vital, and this can be virtual (our programmes are also virtual) and physical, but obviously it’s the former that is necessary in times of lockdown.

“We have found that the way that we embrace and offer the arts is a social intervention for isolation and loneliness, so this is so important for us and residents. We are also trying to encourage the concept of social prescribing where doctors and social workers can actually prescribe arts programmes, including visits to museums.”

Tim says that in the US and Australia, they have created offices called the Ministry of Isolation and Loneliness. They have government employees working to battle this problem. Ageism is something that’s big on the agenda. I think that many more people are paying attention to older folks now because they are realising how devastating loneliness and isolation can be and how on the edge people with little money are. This pandemic has highlighted these facts in sometimes devastating ways and has proven to be a big wake-up call for society.”

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