Retirement community addresses balancing seniors’ safety, mental well-being

Published: Nov. 24, 2020 at 9:29 PM CST
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - For many, the COVID-19 pandemic has made life tough to say the least. It’s been especially difficult for seniors. As an at-risk group for the virus, some seniors have dealt with isolation depression and loneliness because of safety protocols aimed at keeping them healthy. Eyewitness News spoke with a local retirement community to find out what the community can do to help seniors who are struggling with isolation.

Jim Gustavson or “Gus” is a resident at Larksfield Place in east Wichita. Like many seniors, he’d planned on seeing loved ones for the holidays, as he’s done every year.

“And then about two weeks ago, we become a little antsy about the virus, so we called our kids. And they said, ‘we’ve been thinking about it too, and we want you to stay home,’' Gustavson said.

Gus isn’t alone.

“As we were sitting at dinner with another couple, they’ve got the same situation. They canceled all of their Thanksgiving plans,” he said. “All of us are going to be here for Thanksgiving Day. So yeah, it’s very tough.”

Gus and his wife, Nancy have managed to stay positive, though. That’s something he attributes to community interaction and activities, including his new upped gym routine on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Such activities are critical for residents’ mental health, as well as physical well-being, Larksfield Director of Activities for Assisted Living and Healthcare Trina Hand said.

“Even during a pandemic that we’re all experiencing now, it’s even more important to keep our residents engaged,” she said. “Our activities look a bit different, but we still continue to enjoy our art and our creativity.”

But over the holidays, not every senior has access to those types of facilities, or the ability to connect with others safely. With all the restrictions of 2020, Larksfield CEO Mike Hambley said we still need to find a way to keep seniors safe without sacrificing a real connection with them.

“You know, we use the phrase, ‘social distancing.’ I would rather we use the work, “physical distancing” or “spatial distancing,” Hambley said. “We don’t need social distancing. We need social engagement through all of this.”

Some have suggested sending cards to connect with seniors who can’t see visitors in person. Hambley said there are even more powerful gestures that can be made.

“They can do cards. In addition, they can do Zoom visits. They can do phone visits on FaceTime,” he said. “We can do those things that are a little more personal. Cards are always welcome, but I think there are some other things that are more engaged kinds of activities.”

Above all, Hambley addressed the real secret to helping seniors and getting everyone back to some normalcy is practicing good hand hygiene, mask-wearing, and physically distancing, because, as he said, being completely socially distant from our seniors is never good for their mental health.

“Folks need laughter, they need conversation,” Hambley said. “All those kinds of things need to not go away.”

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