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Innovation and creativity abound when it comes to pandemic-proof activities

Innovation and creativity abound when it comes to pandemic-proof activities

Take a large portion of creativity, add practicality, toss in a dash of fun and a pinch of nostalgia, and you’ll design entertaining and stimulating activities for seniors that can’t be curbed by a pandemic. Activities team members throughout Christian Health’s senior-life residences have mastered the art of pandemic-proof programming, while adhering to social distancing, wearing masks, limiting participants, and other guidelines and restrictions from the New Jersey Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Although we face the challenges of COVID-19 every day, we’ve been given an opportunity to really engage in creativity,” says Patti Lombardi, ADC, Activities Coordinator at Hillcrest, Christian Health’s “pre-assisted living” residence.

The Hillcrest Secret Auction, for instance, is a popular new activity. Wearing masks and seated socially distant, residents bid on gift bags with fake money.

“Participants receive a paper plate with a bidder number. They don’t know if they’re bidding on postage stamps or a copy of yesterday’s newspaper,” Ms. Lombardi says. “They get excited if the bid climbs on a particular bag, and there is much laughter if a high price is paid for a joke prize.”

At Heritage Manor Nursing Home, Activities Director Linda Bunker, ADC, has transformed a mobility scooter into a roaming ice-cream truck and a grilled-food cart through an artistic blend of colorful cardboard, treats, and music.

“More themed ‘trucks,’ including an airplane, taxi, and train, are in the works,” Ms. Bunker says. “These trucks combine sight, sound, trivia, and food. They are meant to engage the seniors’ senses and to prompt them to reminisce. With the train, for instance, we will ask, ‘Did you ever take a trip on a train? What did you enjoy most about it?’ “

The Heritage Manor Activities team in-room Zoom bingo, as well as a monthly correspondence project from residents to their loved ones. During the holidays, residents were photographed by a Christmas tree. The image was placed in a photo card; signed by the resident, if able; and mailed to loved ones. Many family members expressed their thanks, noting that the cards were “beautiful and meaningful.”

“We have a resident-created project lined up each month,” Ms. Bunker says. “I’ll keep the projects under wraps so family members will be surprised when they receive the item.”

At The Longview Assisted Living Residence, the Activities team has adjusted some of the residents’ favorite games and competitions.

“Guidelines prevent us from sharing or reusing activity supplies, so we use disposable bingo cards and paper chips, which are discarded after each game session,” says Nickesha Ivey, Activity Director for Longview and the Courtyard, Longview’s memory-care community. “Our residents love competitive games, physical or mental, so we have innovated some new and different ways to keep everyone active, laughing, and engaged all while remaining contact-free and safe.”

“We are also so fortunate to have a talented CHCC employee – Jennifer Ross – who plays live music for our residents,” Ms. Ivey continues. “They enjoy her singing hymns and playing the piano. This has tremendously helped bring back some familiarity to them.”

Ms. Ross, CALA, CHSP, is the Director of Evergreen Court, one of CHCC’s independent-senior apartment complexes located just a short distance from Longview. To help residents exercise their minds, she drops off crossword puzzles, word search, and other activity books. Special events and observances are noted with the delivery of special treats at residents’ doors.

Similar activities are organized at Siena Village and Summer Hill of Wayne, CHCC’s independent-senior apartment complexes in Wayne. The residents celebrate various observances, such as National Compliment Day. The seniors wrote compliments about their neighbors on cards, which were delivered to recipients by the staff. Musical memories, holiday memories, and photos of cherished people and pets are shared via an internal audiovisual system. Fun contests, such as guessing the number of marbles in a jar, are frequently offered. Monthly themed luncheons for a nominal fee are delivered to residents’ doors, if requested.

“One of the greatest challenges in planning activities is the fact that most residents do not have computers or smartphones, so a virtual event is not an option,” says Susan Matyiku, Summer Hill of Wayne Service and Activity Coordinator. “We had to safely think outside the box.”

Part of the success of pandemic-proof programming involves responding to the seniors’ needs.

“We now use a microphone during every activity because our residents told us it was easier for them to hear us,” Ms. Lombardi says. “Trying to listen to someone speaking while wearing a mask is hard is hard enough for people without any hearing impairments. Many say our voices are muffled so we’ve implemented a better way to be heard.”

Despite pandemic restrictions, gratitude is widespread among CHCC seniors.

“The residents are very appreciative of our efforts to keep them engaged during the pandemic,” says Karen Clemente, Siena Village Service and Activity Coordinator.

Adds Ms. Matyiku, “They have adapted to the socially distanced activities that we offer and have mentioned that they enjoy our creative ideas.”