Reflections from an Assisted Living Program Director
As someone who has responsibility for therapeutic programming in Assisted Living for residents living with dementia, I have first hand knowledge of the impact of Covid19 on the elderly in long-term care settings.
Many others have written about these devastating effects on our senior population, their families and their caregivers, whether they live at home alone or in a supportive senior living community. I would like to share some of what I and my colleagues have learned, in hopes that it will help and inspire others. Especially now that long-term care residents and staff have access to the vaccine giving us a glimpse of the “light at the tunnel” it seems a good time for reflection.
I think we all learned mindfulness, to slow down and “savour the little moments”. Some of our residents were taken from us so suddenly during the past year that it seemed unreal that we would not see them again. It was by looking at years of pictures and video that we reminisced about the fun we had together, and how much their personalities and presence impacted us in such positive ways. Now, we try to savor each day and each encounter, to slow down and to be grateful for each other.
We learned to appreciate even more our relationships with our residents’ families. They become extensions of our own families as we struggle together through the debilitating and difficult disease of dementia. That was never more evident than when they were unable to see their loved ones in person a year ago. They trusted us to be there when they could not, which is a responsibility that we do not take lightly. Our residents’ families supported us, thanked us, and became part of the care process as much as they were able.
We discovered how to use new technology! Most of us had never “Zoomed” before, but now it has become our preferred platform. We hold our Alzheimer’s Support group over Zoom and have participants from all over the country. We can connect our residents with their relatives in different states, and talk with great-grandchildren that before we would only see pictures of.
Our entire staff at Armbrook Village – from dining to maintenance to housekeeping to Resident Care Associates – learned the self confidence and respect that comes from working together as a cohesive team on a difficult assignment. We all took on new roles and responsibilities as things came up and job descriptions were fluid. We did what we had to do to the best of our abilities to support our residents. We got through the very difficult days of Spring 2020 and emerged stronger.
And finally, I think that we all learned to appreciate our own families more – the small, intimate moments, as well as others in our personal spheres. My extended “work family” in the healthcare field stepped up and supported each other during the crisis, and we are still Zooming once a month because we realized how much we enjoy it!
Finally, most of my friends and colleagues have re-learned the importance of taking care of ourselves so that we can be the best care partners for our residents and their families.
These are our ‘silver linings” to the pandemic. Hopefully, long after we have vanquished Covid, they will stay with us.
About the Author:
Susan O’Donnell has worked with seniors with Mild Cognitive Impairment and Alzheimer’s at Armbrook Village Senior Living in Wesfield MA since 2016. She is passionate about creating therapeutic and meaningful programming opportunities aimed at improving quality of life and slowing the progression of memory loss. Her ability to empathize with families who are impacted by their loved one’s cognitive deficits are invaluable to her work. Susan is a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant-Licensed (COTA/L), as well as a Certified Dementia Practitioner (CDP).