Overcoming Social Isolation in Older Adults During a Pandemic

In the News  |  January 14, 2021

elderly senior woman wearing a mask for coronavirus

Moriah Bernhardt, MA, LPC, ATR, CLC-Cappella’s Senior Director of Rhythms Engagement and Dementia Programs was recently part of an expert panel discussing the way Senior Living providers can help residents make meaningful connections and overcome social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Other panelists included representatives from CLC-Cappella’s EHR (electronic health record) partner, Point Click Care, and Eversound, an engagement amplifying tool used in many of our 23 communities across the nation. You can watch the entire recording of the event here.

Dangers of Social Isolation in Older Adults

COVID-19, and the ensuing response to it, has been traumatic to many elder communities and our society as a whole. Many care partners in the field have reported that elders have been declining in health and, in some cases, dying from isolation practices imposed by government and health department regulations. Elders are declining not due to the quality of care, but because their spirits have given up. Isolation protocols designed to protect residents from the virus also keep the people who matter most to seniors away – unable to visit in person or provide physical touch and closeness. According to the American Psychological Association, social isolation and chronic loneliness place individuals at much greater risk for a variety of diseases, as well as for premature mortality.

As our organization continues to navigate our way through this pandemic, we are listening to innovative ideas from residents, family members, care partners as well as experts in the senior mental health care space. We are leveraging technology for engagement and using virtual platforms to create enriching experiences for residents to reduce mental and physical decline caused by isolation protocols.

Leveraging Technology for Engagement

Point Click Care, CLC-Cappella’s EHR, has been essential in capturing daily vitals, symptoms, and changes in condition and we are also using it as a tool to improve communication, which in turn helps engage our care partners with residents. By capturing a resident’s interests, preferences, and simple pleasures in the EHR, the care partner can use this information to make meaningful connections during daily face-to-face vital checks.

For example, before a care partner takes a resident’s morning vitals, they can check PCC and see the resident loves hot coffee and listening to the news. Before taking the vitals, the care partner can ask the resident if they would like the TV on and if they would like coffee. They can engage with the resident about the events on the news and check in with them on their mental well-being. If the resident mentions missing their family, the care partner can set up a virtual visit and make a note in PCC so that the rest of the care team knows about the request and the scheduled visit.

Using Virtual Platforms

The pandemic has transformed the work paradigm in most industries. Many people are no longer working in offices and cubicles and instead are working from home, and communication predominately takes place online.

At CLC-Cappella, we have utilized virtual platforms to host Townhall updates for families, residents, and associates to ensure transparent and continuous communication. We continue to run our clinical, leadership, and operational meetings virtually. Ongoing education for team members is on a virtual platform and we have recently added virtual mental health classes for all associates as another tool to support team members during these stressful times.

Virtual platforms have proven to be practical, cost-effective, and provide easy access for people to come together from all parts of the country and world. Technology has enhanced our marketing efforts as well. We are offering virtual tours and educational events to engage with older adults living at home. We are holding virtual sip and paint classes, hosting lectures, health and wellness programs, and virtual technology classes for both residents and prospects.

Group cooking and fitness classes, live music, and movies can be streamed virtually into a resident’s apartment through TV channels and computer applications with the help of virtual technology platforms such as Touchtown and Caremerge.

Creating Enriching Experiences

Technologies such as Eversound, a wireless listening system, have helped residents stay connected to their peers and families in different ways. Several of our communities have used Eversound to enhance hearing and communication during window and outdoor visits, keeping the physical distance while still being able to hear each other and remain socially connected. We also use Eversound to increase indoor engagement through hallway exercises, brain-teasers, travel programs, Bible studies, and board games.

Relying on technology to connect with loved ones and the world around us has increased resident interest in learning new technology and applications. In the last 6 months, we have had a significant increase in technology classes offered to residents. One resident stated that with the help of technology she has developed a whole new community of friends during the pandemic. She has signed up for online University classes and conferences and has become active in the culture change movement.

Evaluating Needs and Opportunities

Now is the time for Senior Living providers to evaluate the needs and opportunities in their communities. If you are using technology to connect and engage people, do all residents and team members understand how to use the technology? Do you have voice-activated technologies for those who need it? Are there enough cell phones, tablets, and TVs in your community? How is the connectivity/WIFI in the building? Is there a need for more onsite IT services and/or staff?

These are just a few of the questions we have been assessing since pandemic restrictions began. The most important lesson we have learned is that although technology is a remarkable tool for improving connections, it cannot be the only tool to decrease social isolation in older adults. Human beings need in-person contact and human touch in order to thrive. While keeping residents safe from COVID-19, we need to continue to think of creative ways to make meaningful connections and have purposeful engagement with safe physical human contact.

Read more about growth and innovation of CLC-Cappella under the direction of our new CEO here.

We own and manage senior living communities alongside our parent company, Christian Living Communities.

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