We all are hunkered down. Schools, shuls and community centers are closed. Restaurants are empty. There is little joy in life right now, especially for our elderly, who have been told to stay in their homes or assisted living communities and avoid contact with anyone. They are hearing messages about how vulnerable they are and that our health care system is limited.
Our most vulnerable population needs us now more than ever.
Geriatric specialist Dr. Matthew Lefferman says, “We need to think proactively about the future and plan ahead with medications, food and supplies for the elderly.”
He adds, “Hopefully, with time, defensive panic will give way to more outward planning and assistance.” Lefferman makes house calls to serve the vulnerable community at residential homes as well as at assisted living and nursing homes. “We need to keep seniors active with virtual visits with family members and physicians,” he says.
To prevent further risk to the elderly, assisted living communities have canceled all outside entertainment and lecturers. Patricia Will, president and CEO of Belmont Village, says staff has taken “draconian measures” to enhance the health, safety and security of its residents.
“During the past several days, we have conducted many resident council meetings and explained our policies and restrictions during this crisis,” Will says. “The reaction on the part of the residents has been very uplifting, and they have applauded our efforts. They understand they are the most vulnerable.”
“Our most vulnerable population needs us now more than ever.”
To keep the atmosphere positive, Belmont has challenged its programming specialists to come up with creative ways to engage residents with purposeful learning, including tech classes on communicating with family via Skype and Facetime. Will says the residents have been “journaling to help with emotions and morale.”
Many seniors live at home with private care. Beverly Woznica and her sister, Miriam Zacuto, share in the care of their elderly mother, who is at home with full-time assistance. While Woznica attended the annual AIPAC conference in Washington, D.C., Zacuto carried the load. Upon her return, Woznica made the wise decision to avoid contact with her mother for at least two weeks. If not for Zacuto, she would have had no backup to manage their mom’s care. Even with caregivers, they both accompany Mom to doctor’s appointments, provide food, medications and all necessities for home care. This successful partnership between siblings is necessary to share responsibilities.
What about active seniors blessed with good health and who still live on their own, maintaining social connections at senior centers, volunteering, attending book groups and card games? This group has been hit hard as the thought of sitting at home in front of the television all day may be demoralizing.
Many local synagogues are offering spiritual and learning opportunities. Stephen Wise Temple streams Friday night services live on Facebook and beginning this week, the clergy will offer a daily thought for those who seek comfort and guidance. Rabbi David Woznica of Stephen Wise Temple, who is Beverly’s husband, said, “I think of our spiritual, intellectual and emotional well-being. While there are times when electronic devices can distance us, this is a time they can connect us. In addition to phone calls, many of our elderly are comfortable with Facetime and other options, and it’s a wonderful way to stay in contact with one another.”
It is during times such as these that we question whether living alone is the right answer for seniors. One major advantage to living in a community is you are never alone. You have a “built-in” family and community. Although most seniors prefer home, family members need to be aware if Mom or Dad are isolated.
There is a silver lining during this difficult crisis. It is the random acts of kindness that continue to pop up. The myriad neighbors offering help to seniors in their particular areas has been heartwarming. Facebook messages from strangers have offered pickup and delivery of any item for seniors or others in need.
Life will return to normal at some point. This is a wake-up call to plan ahead for the most vulnerable in our lives. They need us.
Sandra Heller, a senior living advocate and placement specialist, is the owner of Compassionate Senior Solutions in Los Angeles.