In mid-March, all American Baptist Homes of the Midwest (ABHM) communities followed direction from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and adopted a “no visitors” policy for the protection of our residents. This means that only essential staff members and healthcare personnel will be allowed into the buildings for the foreseeable future. Everyone who does enter an ABHM community will first be subject to screening questions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The no visitor policy is a proactive measure taken to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19 within our communities. Age and underlying medical conditions are both risk factors for COVID-19, which makes our residents particularly vulnerable to this illness.
In addition to the no visitor policy, we have made the decision to only transport residents to essential medical appointments and are canceling many of our usual events and activities. Residents are encouraged to stay home and not spend time in our community rooms. Exceptions to the no visitor policy will be made for families during a major change in condition of their loved one and/or during the end-of-life process.
Practice Social Distance, Not Social Isolation
While these measures have been taken to keep people safe and healthy, social distancing does exacerbate seniors’ already elevated risk for isolation and loneliness—and the negative health impacts they can cause. During this time of social distancing, it is more important than ever to maintain regular contact with your loved ones in a senior living community.
We can’t predict when it will be safe to relax the no visitor policy. In the meantime, try these suggestions for how to stay connected with seniors while the no visitor policy remains in place:
- Video Calls: If your loved one has a smartphone, tablet, or computer, try setting up video calls with them. A 2015 study found that regular face-to-face social interaction significantly lowers a person’s risk for developing depression—particularly among older adults. Video calls are the next best thing to an in-person visit.Some of our communities are scheduling video chat sessions with staff on hand to help coordinate calls. If your loved one isn’t very digitally savvy, reach out to their community for assistance.
- Phone Calls: Of course, phone calls are always a good standby. Because we’re canceling regularly scheduled activities and encouraging residents to limit time spent in public spaces, they will be having much more limited social interaction within the community. We recommend calling to check in on them once a day during this time. Even if you are also scheduling video calls, it wouldn’t hurt to throw in a phone call on days when you don’t talk by video.
- Home Videos: Most of us are already recording videos of our daily life all day long to share on social media. If your loved one is on social media, that’s great—keep those videos coming! If they’re not, find a way to round up the videos you take during the day or week and share them with your loved one, whether by text or email. Seeing little snapshots of your day will mean the world to them.
- Follow a Schedule: Many residents of senior living communities rely on the daily activity and meal schedule for structure. Having those regularly scheduled events abruptly canceled can be very destabilizing. Consider scheduling your phone or video calls for the same time each day to give your loved one an element of routine and something they can count on looking forward to every single day.
While we will keep the no visitors policy in place as long as the CDC and CMS recommends to keep our seniors safe and healthy, we hope the day will come sooner rather than later when we can resume our usual routines in ABHM communities. Until then, make sure to stay in regular contact with your loved ones. It’s the best thing you can do for them—and for yourself.