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Senior living communities are vibrant homes where older adults can spend their days with lively companionship, socially engaging programming, nutritious dining, and the personalized care they need from trained, supportive team members. Just like so many other institutions and businesses, though, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused communities to make several changes to normal operations.
During such challenging times, it’s completely understandable that you may have questions. Today, we’re answering some of the most commonly asked questions as of late. Read on to learn more about how Sunrise communities are continuing to create happy, healthy homes for seniors.
Rita Altman is Sunrise Senior Living’s senior vice president of Memory Care & Program Services. One of only 17 Validation Masters worldwide, she has studied directly under Naomi Feil, who developed the Validation Method to communicate with people experiencing memory loss. Rita’s been a leader at Sunrise for more than 13 years and has over 35 years of nursing experience, and she leads community teams whose purpose is to help make each resident’s day meaningful and engaging.
Q: What is Sunrise doing to keep residents safe during the pandemic?
Rita: Residents’ overall quality of life is our focus at Sunrise. We expanded our infection control protocols at the start of the pandemic, including using personal protective equipment, promoting social distancing, following applicable visitor restrictions, checking for symptoms, and more.
COVID-19 is a highly contagious virus. It’s important that we continue to take steps to help prevent its impact, especially among populations who are at increased risk of serious illness from the virus, which includes those with pre-existing conditions and seniors. We’ve heard from many families and residents that our communities’ infection control protocols help them feel a sense of safety during these unprecedented times.
Q: What does daily life in the community look like during the pandemic? What activities and programs are residents participating in?
Rita: We have a Phased Resumption of Operations Plan, which you can learn more about here. It’s important to note that our leaders weigh every step carefully, and things can change quickly in our current environment.
“Suite stops” have become a more integral part of our communities’ programming, particularly given social distancing. They entail team members stopping by resident suites with food, drinks, and individualized engagement kits that enrich mind, body and spirit and may include art, puzzles, journaling, windowsill gardening and more. Our teams love to get creative and surprise residents with specially themed carts. I’ve seen Suite stop carts that simulate a plane ride around the world and ones that celebrate the launch of a spaceship! Dependent on which phase their community is in, residents may enjoy outdoor walks and games, creative birthday celebrations, scenic van rides, small-group clergy services, and more.
Across the board, I’m so grateful for and inspired by all of the creative ways that our Activities and Programming teams have seamlessly adapted so that they can safely continue doing what they love—bringing meaningful days to residents. Our Live With Purpose programming is designed to help residents engage, enjoy, express, learn, and grow each day based on their individual preferences, and we’re seeing residents continue to experience those special moments and feelings in these unusual times.
Q: How can loved ones stay connected with Sunrise residents during the pandemic, when visitation may be limited?
Rita: We know that close connections and regular interactions with family and friends are important to our residents’ overall health and well-being. Sharing conversations and seeing the faces of loved ones can make an immeasurable difference for all of us, and seniors are no exception.
Residents living in communities in Phase One or Phase Two may participate in scheduled, socially distanced, outdoor visits with loved ones as well as window visits. And regardless of what phase a community is in, our team members are facilitating video chats via Skype and FaceTime between residents and their loved ones on a regular basis. It’s been amazing to see what a difference this has made for both residents and family members! Just sharing a conversation and seeing the face of a loved one can lift a resident’s spirits and help them stay connected to the things that matter most to them.
Outside of visits and video chats, we encourage you to stay in touch with residents by writing letters and cards, dropping off food or care packages, or sending photos and videos!
Q: How are Sunrise residents enjoying continued interaction with each other?
Rita: For older people living at home, it can be challenging and dangerous to socialize during the pandemic. But friendship is one of the constants that makes every Sunrise community home, and our team members are striving to maintain those meaningful connections. Our residents share life experiences with each other, which makes it easy for them to quickly form bonds.
Residents of communities in Phases One and Two are enjoying certain forms of communal, socially distanced dining and programming in small groups. And residents in all communities have found creative ways to stay in touch with their friends both within and outside the community. In one community, a resident decided to knit a shawl as a gift for her fellow resident. And in several others, residents have used community tablets to video chat with friends. The power of friendship is alive and well in all of our communities!
Q: How do you monitor residents’ overall well-being during this pandemic? If you notice a resident experiencing some negative effects due to COVID-19 precautions, how do you react?
Rita: A key part of each resident’s care plan at Sunrise is the Designated Care Manager (DCM), which we had in place long before COVID-19. DCMs interact with their residents each day, get to know their personalities, needs, and preferences, and provide regular feedback to loved ones. This means that they are equipped to notice changes in a resident’s physical or emotional condition.
Change can be hard and confusing for many of our residents, especially those battling cognitive impairments. When a resident feels sad, angry, afraid, or any other emotion in response to the challenges of the pandemic, their designated care manager is in place to listen with empathy and to work with the resident, their family and our interdisciplinary team to enact strategies that focus on enhancing their well-being.
All team members are trained in the fundamentals of the Validation Method, an empathetic means of communication that reduces stress and enhances dignity. In our memory care neighborhoods, Life Enrichment Managers have a very special role in that they create, implement, and expand the current offerings of life skills and Reminiscence kits, personalizing them or creating new ones based on residents’ backgrounds, retained skills, abilities, and preferences.
Q: What else should families know?
Rita: This is a challenging and scary time for all of us, and it isn’t likely to end any time soon. I urge family caregivers to take steps to ease the stress and anxiety you’re likely feeling by exercising, spending time outside, and getting enough sleep. And it remains important for all of us to do what we can to stop the spread—wash your hands, socially distance where possible, wear a mask, cough/sneeze into a tissue or your elbow, don’t touch your face, clean high-touch surfaces, and stay away from others when you’re sick.
The Sunrise heroes working at our communities show up every day to champion quality of life for our beloved residents. If you think a senior loved one could benefit from the care, support, and companionship that our communities can offer, I encourage you to contact a community near you. A team member will be happy to walk you through the details of the community’s COVID-19 response and current status, give you a virtual tour, and answer your questions!