A good friend of mine decided to move his Mom to a memory care facility days before the shelter at home orders began. It was gut-wrenching for him and their entire family. He had made promises to his Mom that he would visit daily and participate in activities, and none of that was possible due to the lockdowns across the county.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 1.3 million people in our country live in nursing homes, and 50% of all residents have some form of dementia. That means millions of Americans have been unable to visit their loved ones or have any in-person contact for what is approaching three months. Those numbers don’t include seniors like my Mom, who live in independent living communities and have also been on total lockdown.
The latest data out of AARP tell us that more than 38,000 nursing home residents and staff have died from COVID-19, representing over a third of the nation’s known coronavirus deaths. We know those are low numbers because many states are still not publicly reporting. In many states across the country, more than half of coronavirus deaths have been in nursing homes. As the country continues to open up, many of the precautions for our seniors will remain, as they should! We’ll need to continue to be bold and creative with the ways we engage our loved ones as we move forward.
So, what have we learned from many who have been creatively spreading happiness and joy while social distancing during a pandemic?
Drive-by visits may be possible.
Many people have scheduled drive-by visits. Think neighborhood car parades, nursing home (or senior living) style! Whether it is one car of family and friends, or five, if your facility allows it, work with the staff to schedule a specific time to pull out front and have your loved one waiting with one of the staff members. Decorate your car, play the music they love, and give them all the reasons to smile!
Everyone loves a care package!
A simple gesture of delivering a care package can bring so much joy! We have been providing what we call HOPE & Joy care packages to caregiversat home, but the same could be done to your loved one in a nursing home. Although facilities are under lockdown, most will allow you to leave items at the front door for them to bring in and deliver after you drive away. Think about some of their favorite things, even if they are forgetful, and put together a care package. My Mom loves Chick-Fil-A, and we have surprised her with that. We also dropped off a milkshake when she least expected it. I mean, who doesn’t smile with ice cream?
Social distancing and fun can run hand in hand.
We are impressed with the families who have played games like tick-tac-toe on windows, never going inside the building. Others have had dance parties through windows and showered loved ones with signs and photos that exude love. At Windward Foundation, we know that music is so healing for caregivers and the person with dementia. Why not throw a dance party? Ask the facility to make sure your loved one is in front of a window, turn up the music, and let the grandkids and or friends dance! That’s sure to bring a smile to all of you!
Caring for our loved ones with dementia doesn’t stop just because they have moved into long-term care. Nothing can take away the guilt, sadness, and isolation family caregivers can feel when weeks and months pass with no in-person contact with their loved one. Be bold and get creative! Remove any concerns about feeling like a fool, and just find ways to have a little fun and fill hearts with joy, including your own!