Working in long term is incredibly rewarding and the joy that I see every day with our residents at Vashon Community Care means that they are feeling well cared for and find purpose in their day. The outpouring of love from the Vashon community is astounding! From designing and building gardens, writing grants for fresh produce, serenading residents at their windows during quarantine, walking and reading with them to adopting pen-pals, the contributions are endless. These resources bring a deep sense of purpose to those who call our assisted living community home.
It’s just this kind of care and socialization that people need as they age. As we struggle through isolation during the COVID 19 epidemic, this connection is critical. There’s no question that quarantine is hard on our residents, yet they know they are cared for by our dedicated staff, their families and the community at large. Every day, during quarantine, there has been some outreach either via computer or in person, letting residents know they are remembered and loved. We are so thankful they live at VCC, as opposed to on their own, during these lonely times.
Research shows that living in a supportive community is essential to healthy aging. In fact, several studies have connected social well-being with the prevention of age-related disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease and some forms of cancer. Some research points to the health risks of social isolation to be comparable to those of smoking and obesity. Loneliness can also lead to anxiety and depression.
In this fast-paced world in which we live, our seniors are getting left behind just when they need us most. They often live far away from their families. Once they stop working, they can lose those important day-to-day connections they had with colleagues. If they’re not driving, they may not have access to social functions. As the child of two aging parents, I know that it’s very hard to make the time to see my parents. It’s gut-wrenching on both ends.
If you know someone who is aging and alone, there are ways to help when you are able:
Listen and engage: When you are in conversation, ask questions to learn more about your elder friend or family member. What was their childhood like? What were their greatest challenges in life? What hidden talents do they possess? The list of questions is endless.
Develop a plan to combat isolation: If you discover a hidden talent or a special interest, act on it! For example, if you learn that your elder likes to sing, make a plan to connect with Music Mends Minds via Zoom every Monday, Wed, and Friday, 1 – 2 p.m. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call at (818) 326-0500 for instructions on how to join! For performances, VCA TV, through Vashon Center for the Arts, is a great option. The Vashon Senior Center also offers some great virtual activities. If the interest lies outdoors, go for a walk or work together in the garden at a distance, of course.
Stay in touch: Reaching out does not have to be time-consuming. You can send a card or call on the phone. The key is to let your elder know you care and that you are available.
Consider a senior living community: One of the great advantages of senior living is that all the social activities and amenities are right there! No doubt, it takes time for some seniors to acclimate to a new community. While the transition can be hard, we find at VCC that residents quickly adjust and become part of our community. The key is for the senior to be in the driver’s seat. When a senior makes the decision to move into senior living, the transition is guaranteed to go more smoothly.
A big part of our high success rate with transitions is the fact that we are part of a greater community that cares deeply for the seniors at VCC. Additionally, with only 40 apartments in assisted living and 16 in memory support, it’s a close-knit environment where we all know and care for each other. We work with residents and their families to create individualized care plans that reflect special interests, hobbies, food preferences, etc.
As we move through these uncertain times, please consider me, or any of my colleagues at VCC, as a resource for any questions or concerns you might have about aging or caring for a loved one who is aging.
We are all in this together.
Wendy Kleppe is the executive director of Vashon Community Care.