Active Adult Communities

9/4/2020 | By Annie Tobey

Assisted living communities know that residents’ social and emotional health play an important role in maintaining physical health. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, communities have had to cancel activities that keep residents active and engaged. No group outings, games, or special events! They have had to limit seniors’ movements and close community dining facilities. Such restrictions can harm residents’ social and emotional wellness. Fortunately, creative ideas can help keep seniors active during the pandemic at assisted living communities.

“Covid-19 has affected us all and can be frightening, so we wanted to make sure that our residents had both safe activities along with some variety and levity as we make our way through all the required safety precautions and curtailed physical contact,” says Domi Aouad, wellness coordinator at Beacon Hill at Eastgate, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, told LeadingAge.

Some ideas are simple, timeless, and inexpensive. Others require technology, funding, and training. Employees at Stonebridge at Montgomery, for example, had a crash course in video streaming, and now residents can enjoy exercise classes, concerts, movies, educational lectures, and religious ceremonies from the in-house TV station. Residents may need initial assistance with technologies such as Zoom and virtual game platforms, too.

Ideas for engaging residents socially, emotionally, and mentally include:

Get Out and Get Active!

Residents at assisted living stay social with outdoor yoga

If an assisted living community has access to patios, lawns, or gardens, these outdoor spaces offer an added benefit – outdoor therapy. Time outside can improve short-term memory, boost mental health, fight anxiety and depression, boost the immune system, and even reduce inflammation.

  • Offer classes in outdoor areas where residents have room to spread out: exercise, yoga, meditation, plein air painting, etc.
  • Hold balcony and patio performances. These can be spectator performances by solo singers and musicians, with residents watching from their balconies. They could also be participatory, such as sing-alongs (as long as residents have sufficient distance or barriers, since singing can transmit the coronavirus.) Even better, offer simple play-along instruments such as tambourines and maracas.
  • Organize scavenger hunts, with residents writing down answers to questions like “What words are on the top of the birdbath?” or “How many pavers on the sidewalk between the rose garden and the road?” Rather than participants playing all at once, spread the hunt over several days to avoid crowds.

Let the Boob Tube Keep Seniors Active During the Pandemic At Assisted Living Communities

Pre-pandemic, television sets in communal living spaces provided chances for human contact. These days, assisted living communities with private custom TV channels can create shows to entertain and educate. Residences with in-room TVs can dig through the channel guides to find new shows that people might enjoy.

  • Highlight engaging content such as virtual exercise classes, concerts, movies, educational lectures, and religious ceremonies.
  • Play trivia with favorite shows. Pick a show that regularly played on the shared TV and encourage residents to play the show in their rooms. Based on the episode, a staff member writes trivia questions, passes them out to participants afterwards, collects the answers, and announces winners. Prizes optional but always welcome.

Gather Virtually, and Keep Attachments Strong and Healthy

Current technologies include a variety of platforms that allow multiple people to interact virtually, including Facebook Messenger Rooms, Facetime, Zoom, Google Messenger, and Skype.

  • Schedule times and equipment for residents to have regular virtual meetings with family members and friends.
  • Host community events that everyone can participate in, from games to singalongs and book discussions.
  • Celebrate birthdays, holidays, and other special events. You can even hand out goodies beforehand, from noisemakers to cupcakes.

Play Games with Online Connections

Residents at assisted living stay social with online games

Several multiplayer games operate on platforms that communities already have access to, including iOS, Microsoft Windows, Android, and web browsers. These offer opportunities to play enjoyable and mentally stimulating games while interacting with other people. Examples include:

  • Words with Friends
  • Exploding Kittens
  • Gummy Drop!
  • Uno with Friends
  • Monopoly
  • Houseparty
  • Pandemic (yes, really!)

Make Eye Contact

Humans benefit from face-to-face interaction, so safe contact can supplement virtual experiences.

  • In communities where doorways are distanced, offer hallway games like music bingo, paper airplane battles, and trivia. To ensure residents maintain distance, use colorful electrical tape to mark distance on the floor.

Offer Room Service

Social distancing means that residents spend more time alone in their rooms. Simple strategies can keep their spaces fresh.

  • Stock carts with craft kits and art projects, puzzles and games, books, magazines, music, etc. Stop by each resident’s room daily to deliver something new and interesting – and to make personal contact.
  • Take the party to the people! Host happy hours by delivering hors d’oeuvres and drinks to each room. Play music from residents’ favorite eras in the hallway during happy hour. Bonus: let residents suggest their favorite songs ahead of time.

And Go One Step Further

  • Make a community facebook. For example, staff members or volunteers can interview residents on topics such as favorite memory, career, grandchildren, favorite trip, birthplace, etc. Combine all photos and Q&As in binders to circulate among residents and staff.
  • Make daily well-being phone calls, checking in with residents on needs – and just chatting.
  • Place personalized notes on dinner trays.
  • Encourage residents to call the Institute on Aging’s 24-hour, toll-free Friendship Line, offering non-emergency emotional support calls (800-971-0016).

With a little creativity, it’s possible to keep seniors active during the pandemic at assisted living communities.

Annie Tobey

Annie Tobey has been a professional writer and editor for more than 30 years. As editor of BOOMER magazine, she explored a diversity of topics of particular interest to adult children of seniors. When she’s not writing, she can be found running the trails or enjoying a beer with friends.

Annie Tobey