It’s impossible to summarize in a few words the plans that were dismantled or destroyed by COVID-19 in 2020. Those were felt maybe no more profoundly than by families and their loved ones in senior living, those considering moving to senior living, those newly needing home-care assistance, and those who suddenly required moving to a community with assisted-living or memory-care options. Suffice it to say, we would all appreciate a little less uncertainty and disruption as we move through 2021—but that’s not looking likely quite yet.
So, how do senior-living communities, residents, and families adapt in the meantime … in real time? You can’t just wait for it to go away. It’s about adapting and thriving, and we’re happy to report that managers of senior-living communities in Omaha have adapted in every way, shape, and form. They are accommodating ongoing quality care for senior residents and their families, as well as for those who are considering the move to senior living amidst the ongoing challenges of the pandemic—and the long-term changes that are likely in its wake. If you have a loved one in senior living in Omaha or need to begin considering moving them to one, you’re in good hands. Loving, caring hands.
We also recommend that everyone stop and consider how you can help provide joy for seniors as the pandemic continues into 2021. Make spending more time with your elderly family members—parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.—one of your New Year’s resolutions that lasts all year. Even if you can’t visit in person or you don’t even know any elderly folks in the area, you can help by sharing kindness and caring with someone who needs a boost in these isolating social times.
Safe at Home
According to statistics from the U.S. Census, there were more than 54 million Americans over the age of 65 in 2020. That number will continue to increase and is projected to reach 83 million people by 2050. The baby boomers are just now starting to reach age 65, and that is typically when they face challenges with mobility and safety in their home. Still, they may want to stay at home as they age. That’s where 101 Mobility (101mobility.com) comes in.
“We offer a complete line of products and equipment that is focused on keeping seniors and those with physical needs safe in their homes,” said 101 Mobility Franchise Owner Tom Riedl. “Many falls occur in the home on the stairs, so one of the most popular products 101 Mobility offers is a stairlift, which allows a person to literally ride up and down the stairs while sitting down, thus reducing the risk of falls. It can easily be used to carry groceries and other packages up and down the stairs, which can become challenging for many seniors.”
Other products include scooters and motorized power chairs, which are helpful for those who are unable to walk great distances, and they can be used with an automobile lift so the customer can take their scooter or power chair with them when they travel. 101 Mobility also provides a full line of products for seniors who use a wheelchair or scooter, including maintenance-free aluminum wheelchair ramps. If a ramp isn’t possible due to space constraints, they also offer Vertical Platform Lifts, or VPL’s. A VPL is a small elevator (often called a porch lift) that will transport a person and their wheelchair from one level to another. They can be installed in a garage, outside, or can be built into the home.
“While moving to an assisted living facility is perfect for some, there are many benefits to aging in place,” Tom said. “Many seniors have lived in their homes for years – sometimes decades. They are part of their neighborhood and community. Many people prefer to age in place, which is often more economical and less disruptive than moving to an assisted living facility. 101 Mobility offers free home consultations and home safety checklists that can be used to evaluate the home and help make a decision on what is needed to stay safe in the home.”
We know that COVID-19 has served up challenge after challenge for seniors. The isolation under pandemic restrictions has gotten tough enough that some seniors are staying in their homes longer than planned or even temporarily leaving senior-living communities and moving in with their families to avoid the overwhelming isolation from friends and family. CCA Home Care (ccahomecare.com) (formerly Care Consultants for the Aging) has seen that trend reflected as increased demand for home care services from caretakers helping out with their loved ones at home.
“CCA Home Care is a great option for seniors, or a family member, who need help to stay independent in their homes with things like bathing and dressing,” said CCA Home Care Business Development Coordinator Blake Thomas. “Amid the current COVID-19 restrictions, CCA is finding that more seniors are staying in their homes because of the quarantine mandates and the inability to have visitors inside senior-living communities. CCA Home Care foresees private caregivers always being in high demand because so many seniors want to stay in the place they’ve called home. The families of those seniors who want to stay at home also appreciate that CCA supports family caregivers who need a break now and again.”
CCA Home Care stays on top of what Douglas County is sharing about new vaccinations and trying to spread that news to their clients and caregivers as soon as there are updates. Most of all, they are doing everything they can to help their clients reduce feelings of isolation and find things to do that make them smile and enjoy life within restrictions. Blake said there are things that the general public can do to help whether they have loved ones at home or in a senior-living community.
“Reach out to your nearest senior-living community and find out what they’re in need of,” she said. “Some may need help to run an exercise class or drop off donuts or things to decorate doors or windows. All are a little different in different communities, but offer to volunteer some time or just show up with a surprise. You’ll be surprised how much the little things can mean to a senior, especially in pandemic times!”
Keeping Life Fun
Midwest Geriatrics, Inc.’s (omahaseniorcare.org) living communities are designed to resemble living spaces and entertainment options for residents. At their House of Hope Alzheimer’s Care, for example, the residents live in apartment-style housing with neighborhood dining areas, and they are encouraged to swing by the 50s-themed diner, sip and old-fashioned soda, and embrace the sunshine on the deck. They recently hosted a happy hour with non-alcoholic drinks, and residents enjoyed a “Cheers” to 2021. In addition, Midwest Geriatrics hosts a lot of hallway activities, independent entertainment, and schedules tons of window visits with families. It all goes down with safety guidelines followed to a tee.
“It is the hope that residents and patients never have to be in isolation,” said Midwest Director of Development and Marketing Jen Beck. “We continue to disinfect areas, screen visitors and vendors, and abide by CDC guidelines, to keep things safe for them.”
Omaha-area residents and families of loved ones living at the House of Hope have been spectacular at helping keep seniors in the community engaged throughout the pandemic, donating things like crosswords, books, and games to help occupy their time. Local volunteer groups have made signs and had children perform dances—not necessarily choreographed!—outside the windows for residents to enjoy. They love children and love seeing their smiles, so it’s a great way for anybody to bring joy to seniors’ lives.
“There is so much good in our community, and the reason that senior-living facilities have fought every day is because of volunteers, donors, and genuine thoughtfulness of those surrounding our healthcare providers,” Jen said. “Our staff is the reason that seniors are still engaged. Because residents are family to our staff, we make every effort to maintain their mental and physical health. It has taken a village this past year, and there seems to be light—and hugs—at the end of the tunnel!”
At Prairie Meadows Alzheimer’s Care Center (prairiemeadowsseniorliving.com), residents have access to a whole host of amenities and programming options to keep them active and engaged in daily life. Their professional staff undergoes continuous training to address the diverse needs of their residents. Prairie Meadows is the only Alzheimer’s community in Omaha that offers their exclusive Meaningful Moments® program, through which the caring staff weaves the life stories of all of their residents into the fabric of their days at the community. The result is a comforting feeling of familiarity and meaning for those seniors with dementia needs in our community. What’s more, their 24-hour specialized-care professionals undergo continuous training to address the diverse needs of residents.
“Prairie Meadows offers 24/7 specialized nursing, the Meaningful Moments® programming, unique community-outing involvement for residents, and a dynamic staffing model for the residents we serve,” said Community Resource Director Don Woods. “To keep seniors engaged, happy, and active in our community throughout the pandemic, team members have done things such as be involved in karaoke with residents to provide a sense of personal entertainment and have residents water and care for personal plants that are given to them. Prairie Meadows is excited to be offering the COVID-19 vaccines for their residents and staff, too.”
If you’re interested in helping bring some smiles to residents’ faces, Don suggests volunteering to decorate a resident’s window with different crafts for the nearest holiday—for example, putting up hearts on the outsides of windows for Valentine’s Day or clovers for St. Patrick’s Day.
“We work diligently every day to make sure that residents at Prairie Meadows are safe and happy, living as close to their previous ‘normal’ life as possible,” Don said. “Anyone in the community can help to spread extra smiles, too, so we welcome any surprises you can come up with!”
Igniting the Senses
Understanding the particular challenges seniors have faced in the last year, senior-living communities in the Omaha region are going above and beyond to keep residents engaged and happy. Ovation by Avamere Heartwood Preserve (ovationbyavamere.com/omaha-nebraska) is now taking reservations for new residents to move into its new sophisticated independent-living, assisted-living, and memory-care communities in Omaha this summer, but they have initiated a wide range of senior-engagement activities at other locations.
“Think about ways in which you can stimulate their five senses to provide your loved ones with feelings of love and connection during this time of isolation,” said Ovation General Manager Stephanie Grade. “Create a schedule for family members to ensure that your loved one receives calls regularly, and use technology to take that contact to a visual experience whenever possible. Send them cards or notes often so they have something to look forward to when they can’t speak with you directly.”
Ovation has held “porch concerts” for residents, delivered baskets of bounty with fresh fruit and vegetables, and provided Ovation Care Kits with Sudoku, crossword puzzles, adult coloring books, and snacks. They also email “Engage with Ovation” vignettes with tips and educational content, such as yoga for stress relief, music performances, container gardening, real-estate news, creative design for smaller spaces, and the like. Their goal is to engage their senses and keep them engaged with life, even if their personal visits are still on virtual platforms.
Going the Extra Mile
Given that elders living in their own homes have been so isolated due to the COVID pandemic, Agemark CountryHouse Residences for Memory Care (countryhouse.net) is going the extra mile to maximize the socialization benefits of being in a senior-living community. Devoted exclusively to benefit those living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, CountryHouse is not “typical” memory care. They are all about experiences. Do More. Engage More. Live More. In the pandemic environment, of course, that means initiating all necessary safety precautions, including offering testing and providing vaccinations. Some of the activities inspired by pandemic restrictions will carry on after COVID passes, too.
“CountryHouse has gotten creative when precaution levels restrict normal activities—and one of the best ways is to mobilize the activity,” said Life Enrichment Director Marcia Houchin. “We have developed hundreds of fun and engaging cart activities in 23 categories. You name it, and we’ve taken it ‘on the road’ to residents’ rooms. That includes bookmobiles, traveling craft projects, a rolling spa, and Happy Hour or party carts for any occasion. This adaptation has taught us how to reach and benefit those who don’t normally participate in group activities or just prefer to stay in their rooms under normal circumstances. For this reason, we will continue many of these cart activities after COVID is over!”
Even if you don’t know anyone in senior living, Marcia said, there are so many ways that you can help engage and entertain residents. Virtual visits—especially from kids and student groups—can really brighten their day. Children have a joyful energy, especially when singing a song or performing music and CountryHouse can even stream the Skype or Zoom video to a large screen. Consider making a new pen pal or two and send cards and letters to residents, or put together drive-by parades of any kind, including cars decorated for birthdays and anniversaries. Window visits are always welcome, too—and not just from people.
“Our residents have been delighted by window visits with dogs, horses, a llama—and even a miniature pony with rainbow-dyed mane and tail,” Marcia said. “We also welcome donations for activities, including craft supplies, flowers to make floral arrangements, books and magazines, nail polish and other spa supplies, and the like. Anyone can get a little creative and make the day for residents of CountryHouse. We welcome all ideas!”
Aging in Place
For seniors who are continuing to live at home during the pandemic, CareBuilders at Home Omaha (carebuildersathomeomaha.com) is available to help keep them engaged and safe. They provide in-home, non-medical services—not just for seniors but for people of all ages. They are dedicated to helping clients lead dignified, independent lifestyles in the comfort and safety of their own homes. They provide experience and options that supports aging in place and maintaining independence, including safety-alert devices, medication management, electronic dispensers, and other assistance.
“You are not alone,” said Executive Director and Owner Brenda Oullette. “We are here to help care for your loved one at home and give your family the support you need to manage the challenge of the changes you are faced with. CareBuilders at Home understands the struggles families face, and it is our mission to provide as much love and support to not only the clients we serve but also to their families.”
The Omaha community can be proud of the exceptional options for elder care in the region, be that at-home care or in a senior-living community. They’ve excelled throughout the pandemic but always welcome creative ways for the community to bring smiles to seniors’ faces.