They go by many names: elders, seniors, the elderly, older people. No matter the name you give them, they are typically in their sixties or later years. Right now, in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, they are considered the most vulnerable population. This vulnerability is about more than a threat to life. It is also about the threat of being isolated and alone.
As governments invoke more and more restrictions on travel beyond our front doors, the risk of loneliness and its consequent feelings of depression and despair increase. As these restrictions increase, the need to stay in touch—and the benefits it brings—grows far greater. This is especially true for our elders, whether they live with us, far from us, or in long term care facilities.
What Can We Do?
We are fortunate to live in times when staying in touch without touching is much easier than it once was. The telephone, whether landline or wireless, is the most prevalent and easiest to use. Video conversations, using applications such as Skype, FaceTime, and Zoom are even better. All it takes is a computer, tablet, or smart phone, and an Internet connection, at each end of the conversation.
Establishing the electronic connection is the easy part. Connecting regularly and in ways that are nurturing for the elder offer a bit more challenge. We hardly need prompts when talking with family, though friends or neighbors may take a little more thought. It is amazing the good feelings that come from hearing, “Hi, I’m just calling to check that you’re OK. How are you doing?”
The conversations need not be long, but they should be regular. It helps a great deal if the caller has a few questions ready. Asking questions, over and above the requisite “how are you” shows you are truly interested in conversing with the elder at the other end.
Elders in Long Term Care (LTC) facilities have something of an advantage when it comes to human contact. They are in close proximity to other residents and in even closer contact with the staff in these facilities. Even so, calls from loved ones are very important. As most LTC facilities have curtailed visits from family and friends, telephone and video calls are more important than ever. Staying apart from friends and family isn’t easy. It’s made far more bearable by staying in touch, regularly and with obvious concern for the other person, especially when that person is an elder.
This article was published in The Vail Voice, April, 2020, p. 29
Bio: Gary Fenstermacher is president of Academy Services Corporation, the non-profit owner and operator of Academy Villas, an assisted living residence in Academy Village. He is a former University of Arizona college dean and professor emeritus at the University of Michigan
On August 19, 2020, Academy Villas residents honored the suffragettes and the 19th Amendment. One-hundred years has passed since the U.S. Government passed Amendment 19 of the U.S. Constitution. This amendment allowed women to vote in all forms of elections in the U.S.A. It had taken a little more than 20 years for determined suffragettes to convince the U.S. populace that women should be allowed to vote. The suffragette movement was the first to break the shackles that placed groups of people in a lower class in terms of voting and other important rights.
Academy Village Walk to Honor the Suffragettes
The Academy Village (www.theacademyvillage.com) residents organized a walk to commemorate the remarkable women who fought so hard for their right to vote. Some were sent to jail, and others were mocked and derided by the many men and some women who did not feel that women had the “right stuff” to vote. Given the nature of the Pandemic, the villagers wore white as did the suffragettes. They also carried purple and gold banners. Women and men walked around the Academy Village in small groups–in keeping with Pandemic rules. They met up with the Villas residents outside the Langtry Villa, and waved to the passers-by.
It was a wonderful day for those who participated and the passers-by.
What has the Academy Villas residence done to avoid any resident to date contracting the Covid-19 Virus? The Villas staff started early in March to retrain staff in hand hygiene and general cleaning. They also began purchasing extra supplies. When the Pandemic approached Tucson, they put in place practices recommended by Pima County Dept. of Health Services, and the CDC and continue to do so. This includes checking staff’s temperature and asking a series of questions when they come to work; and closing the building to all visitors. Fortunately the Villas staff has paid time-off in the event of illness.
At the time, masks were not available for anyone—even hospital workers. Fortunately, several Academy Village residents began to quickly sew masks for the Villas staff, and their neighbors. Staff member received two masks each from the villagers.
This pandemic is placing heartbreaking limits on the social aspects of our lives. The Villas staff purchased three iPads with stands that can be used by residents to communicate with their family and friends. On Mother’s Day, the staff went a step forward with a special opportunity for the residents to see members of their family, one-on-one. One family member at a time could meet his/her loved ones in the Villas garden while maintaining social distancing rules.
We are all fortunate to have the quick thinking and actions taken by the Academy Villas staff.