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When residing in a senior community, life can become monotonous and lonely. So, to spark joy and engage their communities, senior facilities introduce activities to their residents.

According to Lisa Anthony, memory care adviser at Arden Courts Memory Care Community in Westlake; Laurie Gang, activities coordinator at the Geraldine Schottenstein Cottage at Wexner Heritage Village in Columbus; Kristen Morelli, director of resident life and memory care at Montefiore in Beachwood; and Kim Wosotowsky, executive director at Anthology Senior Living, which is scheduled to open this summer in Mayfield Heights, having a wide breadth of activities available helps keep residents in high spirits.

As residents can’t have visitors in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the communities say keeping residents engaged and happy is one of the top priorities.

“Our No. 1 goal right now is to keep residents engaged and active as possible, just in a new way,” Morelli explained. “Every resident gets a visit from a member of our life enrichment team, daily focusing on his or her interests. For some, it’s jewelry-making, art and sing-alongs, and for others, it’s reading the daily news together or playing cards and board games.”

At Montefiore, Morelli said multiple staff members are dedicated to helping residents FaceTime or Skype their loved ones.

“A number of our staff also goes out of their way to make residents feel special in small ways – whether it’s a surprise flower on their breakfast tray or Girl Scout cookies for dessert,” she said. “Right now since large gatherings aren’t possible, it’s the small daily things that can make a meaningful difference and put a smile on a resident’s face.”

At Anthology Senior Living’s various locations, the staff is also available to facilitate FaceTime and Skype calls with residents. Along with those options and its community pen pal programs, the facilities also offer virtual events and happy hours for community members.

“In the coming weeks, we are also rolling out a social distancing engagement plan that will follow a ‘mind, body and spirit’ pattern,” Wosotowsky said. “The ‘mind’ engagements will be delivered through breakfast and will consist of some type of puzzle or game; ‘body’ engagements with lunch to keep residents moving; and ‘spirit’ engagements delivered with dinner.”

She added the interventions will be possible for residents with or without a tablet or smartphone, and could range from puzzles to yoga to guided meditations.

For Wexner Heritage Village, the staff makes good use of YouTube and the internet, “taking residents anywhere in the world,” Gang said.

“They enjoy learning French in a video and then we ‘go to France’ to see the culture, food, museums and art,” she said. “You can take them places that are new, or visit where they’ve already been, like the Louvre, and they can relive that. It brings back great memories for those who have traveled. We showed the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra doing Passover music on Zoom, where each square was a different performer and instrument. Some of the residents started singing along, which was fabulous.”

Staff also sends photos of residents to their family members, Gang added, so they can see what their loved ones are up to since they can’t visit. Two musicians also play outside on the patio for residents to enjoy from inside the building, she said.

Anthony said for Arden Courts, which is a memory care facility, making the day meaningful and engaging for residents differs from case to case.

“Our daily life programming is based on the resident’s interests, hobbies and habits,” she noted. “We have found that residents who participate in our uniquely designed programming experience profound moments of satisfaction and joy. Individuals with memory loss thrive in an environment that has routine, so they know what to expect.”

Some of these group activities include physical, sensory, social, creative, intellectual, intergenerational, spiritual and community happenings, Anthony added.

Though some of the activities have changed due to social distancing guidelines, the professionals explained these activities are more important now than ever.

“It’s so important to have a normal schedule, especially with so many recent changes,” Gang said. “(The residents are like) my family members. They need me, they need to feel comfortable and to have stimulation, especially with their family members not able to visit. And I’m going to be there for them.”

Anthony added, “We have been trying to keep the mantra of ‘business as usual’ with a few exceptions. Our programming staff is continuing with our daily routine of morning, afternoon and evening activities while incorporating social distancing.”

Morelli explained a resident’s mental wellbeing is just as important as their physical health, especially in a time where there is plenty of uncertainty.

“The reality is residents are more isolated than they have ever been,” she explained. “It would be easy to lose hope or feel sad and alone. That is where activities and having fun come in. We need to be the light for them, to lift them, to let them know that although times are tough and different right now, we are here for them now and always.”

Wosotowsky said, “It’s important to stay positive in times like these. Loneliness can have a detrimental effect on one’s health, and health is so closely linked to happiness.”

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