Senior living during COVID-19: How to bolster social connection for older adults

June 9, 2020

iN2L Team

The past three months have been incredibly challenging for the world, our country, our healthcare and essential workers, and uniquely difficult for our senior living communities. As some states begin phased reopening, the question hangs over us: when can senior living return to some semblance of normal?

Unfortunately, that day might not be for a long time. People age 65 and over are some of the most vulnerable to COVID-19, especially if they are immunocompromised or have other health conditions, like heart disease. It’s a tough reality to face when residents aren’t getting the regular social connection we know they so deeply need, through communal meals, group activities, and visits from loved ones.

Knowing that precautionary isolation in senior living might not end in the near future, it’s important to think about adapting to the new normal. You may already be doing many of these things, but here are four tips to bolster social connection for older adults, during COVID-19 and beyond.

On-demand video visits put control and connection in residents’ hands

Not being able to visit with loved ones may be psychologically the toughest part of precautionary isolation measures. Video visits that allow residents to see and hear their loved ones are a technologically sophisticated, yet simple, way to fulfill this basic need.

Ideal video visit solutions should be so easy to use that residents can initiate a video call to friends or family whenever they want, empowering them to reach out to loved ones. The technology should also support calls with multiple attendees, so residents can catch up with groups of family and friends for on-demand video visit “parties.”

Plus, thanks to recent CMS allowances, video visit capabilities can be used to facilitate telehealth appointments during COVID-19. Residents can keep scheduled appointments for primary care, specialist care, urgent care, mental health, nutrition, therapy, and more, all over video.

Asynchronous text and video help maintain a connection between video visits

Even with frequent video visits, the toll of minimized human interaction can be significant. The ability to send and receive asynchronous messages, whether texts, photos, or video, can help keep conversations going for residents. Using personal tablets for each resident is ideal, or if technology is being shared, ensure residents can each have their own profile set up where personal messages can be stored.

Window visits can be great for face time—but do them safely

You may have seen communities do things like host in-person visits on either side of windows. This can be a great way to help residents get face time with loved ones, but make sure you’re hosting them safely. There are a few simple guidelines you can follow to ensure residents get the opportunity to connect, without potentially being exposed to COVID-19:

  1. Dedicate a space for visits that is separate from areas that employees or residents regularly frequent
  2. Create a schedule so you’re only hosting one visitor at a time
  3. Lay out ground rules in advance and supervise visits to ensure windows don’t get opened
  4. Encourage phone calls on speakerphone to accommodate audio
  5. Disinfect the inside and outside of the window and any common furniture after each use

Rally the greater community for safe social distancing fun

It’s been terrific to see how many towns and cities have come together to bring joy to senior living residents. Here are some of our favorite ideas:

  1. Technology enables us to do so much, but sometimes it’s just exciting to get something in the mail! Put out a request on social media for volunteers to write letters of encouragement and support to residents, or to simply send cheerful greeting cards. You can also participate in our iN2L Pen Pal Program.
  2. Host a drive-by parade as a fun event—ask residents’ loved ones and other friends of the community to assemble in their cars at the end of the community property and do a slow drive-by to wave and honk as residents view from their windows or balconies. Bonus points for a theme, balloons, or coordinated music.
  3. Bring in some entertainment in the form of a musician or dancer who can perform in a central outdoor area where residents can watch and listen from their windows. You’ll likely need to coordinate audio connection with extension cords, so make sure contact is minimized, and that gloves are used in addition to handwashing.

We understand the pressure senior living community leaders are under, and we applaud and thank you for your efforts during this challenging time. Connect with us on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter for more social connection tips. With our touch screens and individual tablets in more than 3,000 assisted and independent living communities, memory care settings, and adult day programs across the U.S. and Canada, we’re constantly bubbling up new ideas from our communities.