It’s understandable if you find the news headlines frightening. Each day, the death toll of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic climbs higher. And it also seems like nearly every day, there’s a new story about a nursing home hit with cases of COVID-19 among their residents and/or staff.
As I’ve written about in recent weeks, nursing homes and other senior living communities have strict protocols in place to deal with a highly contagious illnesses, such as flu, stomach viruses, or even COVID-19. And the majority of these communities are doing a good job of protecting their residents from getting sick. But the residents of assisted living and long-term care homes are among the most vulnerable to this terrible pandemic. This fact makes the news stories especially heartbreaking.
But I’m also seeing many stories of resiliency, hope, and optimism in the news of how senior living residents — especially those living independently — are handling the COVID-19 situation. And I’m also getting similar first-hand accounts from the continuing care retirement community (CCRC) residents with whom I communicate. These uplifting, positive stories are encouraging examples of how resilient today’s senior living residents are, even during difficult times.
Reconnecting with long-time friends
A report on WAMU Radio shared the story of Frank and Mary Longwell, a couple living in Riderwood Senior Living Community, a CCRC in Silver Spring, Maryland. With social distancing top-of-mind, Frank and Mary are enjoying connecting frequently with their children and grandchildren over FaceTime. Frank also is taking their community’s lockdown as an opportunity to reconnect with lifelong friends via email and phone conversations. He’s reached out to college and military buddies, plus old work colleagues — some of whom he hadn’t spoken with in years.
Frank explains: “Just talking and saying, ‘How are you guys doing? Is there anything going on in your state that you’re concerned about locally for you?’…And that’s been terrific, and it’s led to us saying while we can’t see each other right now, that when this thing has passed — and it will go passed — then we need to make an effort to get together because it’s been too long.”
A shared sense of community
94-year-old John Gould lives in an independent living unit at The Overlook at CC Young, a CCRC in Dallas. John, a WWII veteran who enjoys playing trumpet in a band and woodworking at the on-site wood shop, was spotlighted in a newspaper article last month. Even during the early weeks of the COVID-19 outbreak, John had to shift his weekly church activities to online services, and his band was no longer able to practice in person. But John still sees the positives of his particular living situation and is grateful for his CCRC “family.”
John cherishes the friendships he has in his CCRC community, perhaps more now than ever. He says that he and his neighbors in independent living are people who “share the good times and the bad times, so we’ll make it through this.”
He notes that he is most concerned about seniors who are living on their own without a support system — people who are likely feeling extremely fearful and isolated right now. “If you are an older person living alone, where you have to worry with utilities or tripping over rugs, those are the vulnerable people…that would be the pits right now.”
I’ve read and heard about other ways that CCRCs and other retirement communities across the country are helping their residents not only survive but thrive during this challenging time. Some examples include:
- Socially distant block parties and singalongs
- Sewing groups making cloth masks for both citizens and healthcare workers
- Parades to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries
- Wine-tastings and special food menu items for residents
- Residents crafting signs with positive message or words of gratitude to staff
- Zoom online meetings to facilitate at-home exercise classes or other remote learning opportunities
- Cheering for healthcare workers from patios/balconies at a designated time
>> Related: The Value of Community at a CCRC
An enduring spirit of resiliency
CCRC residents in independent living units are buckling down like the rest of us in order to “flatten the curve” and guard against exposure to COVID-19. This is crucial in senior living communities in order to reduce the likelihood of spreading this deadly illness to vulnerable people.
It’s understandable, however, that some residents feel like they are “trapped” — prohibited from leaving campus or barred from returning to the community if they do leave. With schools and businesses closed, and restrictions on travel outside the home in nearly every state, almost all of us feel this way right now, I’d dare say.
Visitors to senior living communities also are banned, which is especially upsetting for many CCRC residents who miss in-person visits with loved ones. Meals, previously enjoyed with friends in the on-campus dining room, are now either picked up and taken “to-go” or delivered to residents’ units. It’s crucial to not lose sight of the fact that these strict measures are being enforced to ensure every residents’ safety.
But as these anecdotes from across the country show, many people living in CCRCs seem to be rising to the occasion during this pandemic, voicing their extreme gratitude for the caring staff, and relishing the enduring sense of community. We can all learn and benefit from this type of grateful mindset.
We’re in this together.