In many ways, the senior lifestyle is unique and in-transformation.
Although the 60 plus generation continues to re-define and transform contemporary senior lifestyle wants, needs, opportunities, options and ways of dealing with generationally unique issues, (as saturated by media exposure) it’s well-known that seniors are particularly susceptible to the medical and other impacts of COVID-19.
Aside from the basic and sometimes urgent public health and safety measures and precautions, the pandemic has potently exposed and exacerbated a widespread dilemma of senior living: the fragile realities of isolation and feelings of being alone.
Of course social distancing and isolation have become routine coping skills for most age groups, the situation continues to underscore that social isolation among seniors can be a subtle or serious mental health concern, a documented risk for cardiovascular, autoimmune, neurocognitive problems and puts seniors at greater risk for depression and anxiety.
In Calgary, now more than ever, dealing with COVID risks is a vital factor as senior’s residences focus on the re-defined and ‘new normal’ programs, facilities amenities and priorities. “Since COVID-19, the design and architecture of seniors’ residences have emerged as a topic of great consideration,” says Alisa Audia, general manager of The Edward, the new, contemporary, luxury, independent seniors’ living residence from Section23 Developments.
“Seniors are looking for a new home that will be modern, well designed, functional, safe and beautiful. They are asking for more outdoor spaces, ideally designed with multiple safe seating groupings. The concept of an outdoor living room area for visits, with access from both the residence and street level, providing a comfortable space for visiting, without having guests moving through community areas. Another desire we have seen is to provide smaller flex spaces such as contemplative spaces and seating areas for residents to meet up in smaller groups.”
According to Mike Conroy, president and CEO of The Brenda Strafford Foundation, which operates five senior care homes in Calgary, “Changing consumer preferences are evident in the new generation of seniors who expect to remain in their homes longer, and expect a different kind of continuing care system than the current generation of elderly. Particularly in the ‘baby boomers,’ who want to be more involved in decisions that impact them and are typically more educated, have access to more information and resources, and have a greater comfort with technology than depression-era and war-era seniors.
“This comes with different expectations around choice, maintaining independence, and involvement in decision-making.”
No doubt about it. Changing generations (and the jarring pandemic) continue to re-define the list of senior living must-have’s. “Due to COVID-19, the topic of how residence airflow is managed in the suites and common areas,” Audia explains. “At The Edward, each suite has its own HVAC system that circulates air from the outside and air is not circulated between suites. In the common areas, we have installed a ventilation system that is easily managed and re-directed as needed. Another hot topic is touch points and sanitization with touchless plumbing and fixtures in shared spaces and the integration of keyless entry systems for entry points and suite doors.”
In many ways, the “normal” about senior living have been shaken-up by the pandemic. “Particularly by limiting or removing social aspects,” says Scott Patterson, Wellness Navigator of The Journey Club retirement homes in Westman Village. “Sadly for the time being, it has changed how people can visit, how close we can be with one another and this is a huge change for everyone, most importantly for seniors. At The Journey Club we have implemented safe practises to keep socialization and engagement like hallway exercise classes six feet apart and the walking track in Village Centre is open exclusively for Journey Club residents.”
For everyone, especially for seniors, there are reams of medical and mental health theories and findings about the vital benefits of social interactions and relationships. In many ways, and for all generations, COVID-19 has slammed a major kink into social contacts and connections. Thanks to technology, school kids and employees are getting through it by-remote and most people manage by staying connected.
Sometimes a cliché and sometimes valid, coping with technology is not so easy for seniors.
“North American statistics say that over 75% of seniors are using the internet daily, although the pandemic has certainly accelerated the use of and comfort with technology for many seniors,” says Careen Chrusch, director of Marketing and Communications with Calgary’s United Active Living (Garrison Green and Fish Creek) communities. “For some, it was already a key part of how they engaged with family and friends. Not much different than the rest of us, many of our residents quickly adapted to seeing family, conducting meetings and engaging socially over FaceTime or Zoom.”
The Edward’s Alisa Audia points out, “In a senior living setting, technology is key to mitigating social isolation. As well as innovation and creativity when it comes to how programs are planned and executed. Seniors do appreciate technology and are fascinated by all the options available to them. Especially when it comes to staying connected with others. Video conferencing and designated rooms for virtual visits is a new way of life in senior living. Another way we stay connected with technology is with our automated daily resident check system. Residents just pick up their phone each morning to “check-in”, so our Concierge team knows that everything is okay.
“We are also looking to integrate an app that can be used to make dining reservations for guests and schedule transportation. In our conversations with seniors, the idea of this tech excites them!”
Patterson enthusiastically agrees. “Yes! Most seniors are connected for personal reasons now more than ever. To connect with loved ones close and far away. Also for entertainment reasons, games, TV shows and movies. Most seniors are very comfortable with their technology.”
Careen Chrusch emphasizes that the restrictions on family members and other visitors entering the community during the pandemic has been one of the most difficult changes, while the opening-up of the restrictions has made a world of difference.
The ongoing frustration is how much longer the COVID-19 curse could last. And what about when it’s over?
Chrusch is professional and realistic. “As the demographics shift to an aging population the need is still there (and growing) for senior’s living communities. We anticipate there that some of the protocols and measures that have been implemented as a part of the pandemic response will be here to stay, such as screening protocols. And there will be an even stronger focus on safety and professional policies and procedures to create healthier environments that take worries away from residents, especially those who may have previously lived on their own.
Audia notes with positivity that “We can’t go back, only forward. Things will never be the way they were. COVID-19 has forced the senior living industry to revaluate everything we do, how we design and use our spaces, how traffic flows throughout our residences, how employees engage with residents, how we offer great service in extreme circumstances, how we keep our residents healthy and engaged.”
Scott Patterson has positivity about looking to the future. “Ensuring all visitors are healthy 48 hours prior to a visit, having temperatures taken when entering a building, completing a health screening questionnaire with contact information will probably become the new normal when the pandemic is finally over. Because COVID-19 will never be completely eliminated, we must create a location that is a safe as possible for our residents.”