Six ways to help independent living residents stay well throughout the COVID-19 pandemic
With the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been a focus on keeping assisted living, memory care, and skilled nursing residents safe. But, it’s also important to help seniors in independent living care settings understand what they can do to stay well. Here are six ways you can engage your independent residents in maintaining wellness.
Practice good hygiene
This might seem like a no-brainer, but many people have forgotten the basics. Now is a good time to reinforce important best practices.
- Proper and regular handwashing is a key factor in reducing the transmission of many diseases, including COVID-19. With flu season approaching, this reminder is even more important. Good handwashing includes covering all surfaces of the hands and using a good soap with warm water for twenty seconds.
- Avoid touching your face, especially eyes, nose, and mouth. It’s not uncommon for a person’s face to become sweaty or itchy under a mask. Naturally, someone might reach under and scratch or wipe away sweat. Remind your residents that they shouldn’t touch their face without washing their hands, even with a mask on.
- On the subject of masks, early in the pandemic wearing something to cover our faces was better than wearing nothing; and that is still true. With limited supplies of medical-grade masks, it made sense to resort to homemade masks, bandanas, and scarves. However, there is now greater availability of fitted masks with good filtration. So, suggest that your residents buy masks with greater protection. Look for one that keeps the nose, cheeks, and chin well covered. A July study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill suggests that the nose may be the first place coronavirus establishes itself; which is all the more reason to ensure that residents use a mask that fits well. The CDC also has some great updated information about masks that will help educate seniors.
Embrace wearable technology
Wearable health devices have come a long way from the simple pedometers that were popular in the 90s. Today, wearable devices track sleep, activity, heart rate, EKG, temperature, and more. In addition, health apps can be linked to devices such as scales, pulse oximeters, thermometers, and blood pressure monitors; which can complement the data collected from wearables.
Some technology solutions, like MatrixCare, can even incorporate all this data into resident records. So, your team can monitor the wellness of residents across your organization.
Seniors with a competitive streak will enjoy gamification built into many devices. Earning badges and other awards through consistent activity is often a great motivator to keep moving. Many devices allow users to share their activity with friends and family, which provides fun and accountability.
Socially distant and remote fitness programs
It’s easy to fall into a stay-at-home routine that discourages movement when there is fear around being near others. But it doesn’t take long for seniors to begin experiencing muscle wasting; which may lead to an increased risk of falls. To combat this, encourage your residents to engage in remote or socially distant activities through your organization. And make sure they are aware of other resources available to them.
Many health departments, municipalities, and local senior centers are offering activities your seniors can take advantage of. In addition, there are many online sources that encourage activities such as yoga and fitness videos, walking clubs on social media, and websites such as the National Institutes of Health’s Exercise and Physical Activity page, that have many resources for seniors.
Make and keep physician appointments
Seniors may be concerned about visiting physician offices for fear of being exposed to others who are ill. In addition, many physician offices have scaled back in-person visits, which makes seeing the doctor more challenging. Many physicians are offering telehealth visits. But, seniors might not know how to initiate a telehealth visit or what the experience will be like. Holding a class to demonstrate how a telehealth visit works can help ease their fear. This can help to ensure that they have the right device and the ability to connect.
Residents should be encouraged to keep up with regular visits even if they are in person. It’s important to keep up with cancer screenings, vaccinations, and follow up for chronic conditions. Of course, acute problems should be treated urgently; such as shortness of breath, chest pain, difficulty breathing, severe abdominal pain, sudden weakness or slurring of words, and injuries. Encourage seniors to go to the emergency room when necessary. And assure them that hospitals have COVID-19 precautionary measures in place to help keep them safe.
Eating well to stay well
Like avoiding physician offices, seniors may be reluctant to visit the grocery store. This may put them at a higher risk of malnutrition as a result. They may have previously been getting much of their nutrition from your organization’s dining services. With the change, they can be lacking key nutrients from their diet.
Good nutrition supports a healthy immune system at any time. But dietary adjustments during this season can offer benefits that make a big difference. Amy Wooten, RDN, MatrixCare’s director of nutrition, suggests seniors include plenty of these foods to help boost the immune system:
- Citrus fruits for vitamin C
- Vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and cabbage for glutathione
- Fatty fish such as salmon, trout, sardines, and herring for omega-3s and vitamin D
- Probiotics such as yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut
Encourage seniors to take advantage of senior-only shopping hours at local grocery stores. Plan visits ahead of time by calling ahead and compiling a list. Or, you can help your residents order through an online grocery service as another way to meet their nutritional needs.
When the pandemic first hit, people were excited to get on video calls with friends and family. But for many people, the frequency of these calls diminished when the newness wore off. Seniors who may have just been getting accustomed to video calling may find themselves lonelier and isolated. Now is a great time to encourage them to resume chatting with family and friends on a regular basis.
According to the report Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults, social isolation increases the risk of premature death as much as having other risk factors like high blood pressure, smoking, or obesity. Loneliness can have other health consequences. For instance, it is associated with higher rates of anxiety and depression. And for seniors, it is associated with an increase in death, hospitalization, and emergency room visits.
Now is a good time to engage seniors in volunteer opportunities in your own organization. Or, encourage them to engage in the broader community. engAGED: The National Resource Center for Engaging Older Adults “seeks to recognize and empower older adults as valuable contributors to their communities and to the services they help to provide through volunteerism.” Having a purpose is good for people of all ages but can be especially helpful in preventing seniors from feeling the despair that comes from being alone.
We are in unprecedented times with no promise of improvement in the near future. Organizations can easily become overwhelmed with the magnitude of changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. By providing these tools, you’re enabling not only your residents to stay healthy but also your organization.
All information presented herein is solely intended for employees of MatrixCare customers; in connection with their use of the MatrixCare application as a supplement to training and to illustrate how MatrixCare applications can be utilized. Statements and examples used in the presentation are not intended to contradict or in any way override the written or verbal instructions of the customer (“Client”). The Client is responsible for establishing its own practices and procedures and making each of their employees familiar with them, including those related to the use of the MatrixCare application.
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