How are seniors adjusting to COVID-19 pandemic?

Local organizations offer various resources

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Tanya Welch of Hiawatha Suites Senior Living

Seniors at Hiawatha Suites Senior Living, 4140 Dight Ave. S., watched as Irish dancers performed in the parking lot. The seniors enjoyed the dancing from a safe distance in the dining room or outside on the patio. Hiawatha Suites Executive Director Tanya Welch mentioned that this had become the “new normal” for seniors. Families, other visitors, or performers all need to keep their distance.

Hiawatha Suites Senior Living is a care facility that houses seniors in order to provide their care. However, their aim is still to make seniors feel independent and dignified. They focus on community life and memory care for seniors, and also offer 24-hour care. These ways of helping seniors have all been challenged due to COVID-19.

Many seniors have underlying health conditions, which adds to the complications of living through COVID-19. Seniors’ health is often already fragile but contracting COVID-19 would create many new challenges. Welch believes that a senior without a community supporting them would make even the simplest of tasks difficult – especially, if they did not have access to electronics or know how to utilize apps like Zoom or Skype.

“Encountering COVID-19 could be a death sentence for the elderly,” Welch said.

Residents at Hiawatha Suites are allowed to go out for essential healthcare visits only. Even though Hiawatha Suites provides Metro Mobility, seniors want to go out and shop, eat or visit friends and family. Hiawatha Suites has tried to encourage video chats and phone calls with family, but they understand that these are not the same.

“We have begun outdoor patio visits. This has brought much joy to residents and families,” Welch said.

These visits must still be outdoors, with all visitors and residents wearing masks and standing six feet apart. These visits are monitored and the families are asked to provide Hiawatha Suites with a 24-hour notice before they visit. Families are also screened and asked to sign an outdoor visit policy in order ensure that guidelines are followed. To call for an appointment, Hiawatha Suites Senior Living’s phone number is 612-351-6060.

For the seniors that don’t get visitors, there is a full-time activities director who spends time with all residents. But, Hiawatha Suites still encourages the community to reach out and help. Sending letters to seniors can be done by using their main address listed above.

“We strive to keep residents safe, secure, happy and entertained on a regular basis. Just having personal connection and conversation is good for anyone’s soul,” Welch said.

Because Hiawatha Suites Senior Living is a care facility that directly houses seniors in order to get their care, their COVID-19 safety plan can be more challenging because of closer living quarters. Hiawatha Suites has a strenuous process of screening all visitors. They encourage hand washing more regularly, sanitize the building daily and staff wear masks and personal protective equipment (PPE). They also test residents and staff often.

“It’s very important to me that seniors are well cared for. My own mother went through the various phases of Dementia and Alzheimer’s,” Welch said. “She lived in a skilled nursing facility for the last three years of her life.”

In preparing for the future, Welch believes that it is important for the community to keep reaching out to seniors they know, not just seniors living in Hiawatha Suites. She encourages people to reach out to seniors for a conversation, to show support or even just to share a smile.

“You would be surprised at what you could learn from seniors. They were once young, too. Some of their life stories would amaze you. I have worked with seniors who were airline pilots, nurses, doctors, teachers, writers, published authors and more,” Welch said.

Welch acknowledged that the pandemic has been hard on everyone and is continuously so. But, seniors are more susceptible to getting COVID-19 and compromised because of their health and age. She encourages people to still visit and check in with one another in a safe manor.

“Everyone loves getting a visit from time to time. It makes us feel remembered and appreciated,” Welch said.

LONELINESS AND ISOLATION

Larvel Bunker

Larvel Bunker, the co-owner of Comfort Keepers Twin Cities, (275 4th St. E., Suite 345 in St. Paul), believes that loneliness is a big struggle for many seniors during the pandemic. Socially isolated seniors have a greater risk of mental and physical decline while socially engaged seniors have higher levels of physical, mental and cognitive functioning according to a study done by Forbes. Social interaction may even slow Alzheimer and Dementia patients’ decline, according to the National Institute of Health.

Comfort Keepers Twin Cities provides in-home, non-medical care for seniors and other adults in need of assistance with daily activities. They have more than 700 offices nationwide, and serve the local communities in St. Paul and Minneapolis. Along with daily assistance, Comfort Keepers Twin Cities provides 24-hour home care, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease care and end-of-life care.

“Feelings of isolation are universal and far reaching, especially during the statewide Stay at Home order. Some seniors found themselves walled-off even from residents within their own buildings, which although necessary for safety, could not have been easy on seniors and may have lasting effects on some,” Bunker said.

Longfellow Seward Healthy Seniors

provides many services to help area seniors live healthy, independent and socially connected lives. They serve 600+ seniors and caregivers annually. Although their office in the U.S. bank building was destroyed during the civil unrest, they are still providing essential services (although they have temporarily suspended in-person classes and events due to social distancing requirements).

Food insecurity is a pressing need for many seniors now. "Our community became a food desert practically overnight when Target, Cub and Aldi’s closed due to significant building damages," said Executive Director Mary Albrecht. "Our staff and volunteers are doing grocery shopping and delivery for our clients, and are delivering food from local food shelves, as well. We recently received a Hunger Solutions grant for food distribution and delivery to lower-income seniors. Older adults age 60+ who live in the greater Longfellow and Seward neighborhoods are encouraged to contact us to see if they’re income-eligible for free food distribution and delivery.

"We're always looking for more volunteers to help us in our work. Contact us by calling 612-729-5799 or email us at info@LShealthyseniors.org."

Nokomis Healthy Seniors

is now able to deliver food from the Minnehaha Food Shelf to your home every Tuesday, between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. If you could benefit from this service, call the NHS office at 612-729-5499. Staff is working remotely, and will respond to voicemails as soon as they’re able.

“With the advent of Covid-19 and its impact on our community, we’ve all been very concerned for our friends and family, especially our elders. We also know how difficult it is to be a caregiver during the pandemic, when we are asked to stay at home. One of the ways that we are going to help is by making memory boxes that can help those with dementia to relive favorite memories and stories of their past. Please call the office for more information,” said Executive Director Megan Elliasen.

"Social distancing means that most of us have had to rely on electronic means to stay connected with others, and many of our participants are not comfortable with, or don’t have access to, technology. Similarly, the stress of living during this unprecedented time of a world-wide pandemic and the uncertainty and disruption it brings will likely worsen existing mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. Even before the pandemic, there was evidence that substance abuse has been rising among the older population, and the fear and panic many feel during this time of Covid-19 may very well result in more men and women struggling with substance abuse.

"On another note, NHS participants have experienced further stress and fear in their neighborhoods this spring and summer due to the rioting, violence, and mayhem in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, putting many of us on edge."

Nokomis Healthy Seniors (NHS) is not offering in-person programming until further notice, such as in-person events/programs, including bingo, lunch and a movie, support groups, Nurse is in Blood Pressure Clinic, educational presentations, and foot care.

Virtual Program Offerings:

« Exercise with Becky, Nokomis Healthy Seniors’ Exercise Instructor. She is creating several different videos with tips on exercising at home using items you probably have on hand. Visit our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/NokomisHealthySeniors) for a link to the video, or leave a message at the office (612-729-5499) and Becky will send you the direct link via email.

« Exercise: Juniper Program – The Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging (MAAA) offers its Juniper program classes online. Call 855-215-2174 or visit www.yourjuniper.org.

« Friendly Phone Visitors – Volunteers and staff are happy to call seniors who would like to chat with a friendly visitor.

« Rides – NHS is still coordinating rides, provided by volunteers, for essential services such as picking up prescriptions, grocery store runs, and doctors’ appointments.

« Book Club, via Zoom – Call the office for details.

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