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The New Normals of Senior Living

Lifestyles and human connections

The fountain at The Journey Club.

The four month COVID jolt has had a multi-level impact on life and business, particularly in the Calgary area. For the ever-changing dynamics of senior living, it continues to be a valuable learning experience about many tangibles and intangibles.

Throughout North America, senior living is being re-defined. Professionals and industry leaders are dealing with the basics, the essentials and the many new ways of doing things when it comes to the needs, wants and preferences of today’s (and tomorrow’s) seniors, the development of senior living and the delivery of senior care.

They juggle and consider factors from lifestyles, amenities, socioeconomic conditions and relationships to a booming home health care industry, the warp speed impact of technology and the decline of the “nursing home” model of care.

In the Calgary area, organizations like United Active Living, The Journey Club, Statesman, Section 23 and The Brenda Strafford Foundation are prime examples of the features and innovations happening with senior living.

For many professionals, a vital aspect is still the human factor, connecting and social interaction. “We are social beings, and we grow and thrive when we have others to engage with us, reflect the world back to us, and challenge or validate our perspectives,” says the plugged-in Careen Chrusch, United Active Living’s director of marketing. “We do not lose the need for connection in our later years. In fact, with the number of losses experienced with aging (career, family home, driving/independence, spouses, children and long-time friends) isolation and lack of social connection can have significant detrimental effects on feelings of self-worth, physical and mental health, as well.

“Alternatively, being connected and feeling like a valued member of a community brings new vibrancy to life,” she adds with positivity.

Al Boileau, executive director of the Journey Club emphasizes that updating and innovation are key drivers of the new normal in senior living. “Research is on-going and crucial to the development of new and forward thinking programing to enhance our residents’ lifestyle. Just one example is the use of technology. It has certainly come a long way with tools like ‘Alexa’ and ‘Virtual Reality’ being utilized to diversify programing and engage our residents.”

He underscores that COVID-19 was also a significant teachable moment. “Engagement is important to help our residents cope with the ever changing landscape. It’s crucial that we maintain a high level of communication directly with our residents and their families to dispel myths, educate people and manage their fears. Within our congregate living setting, our residents have not had the feeling of being ‘alone.’ ”

Chrusch points out that the suddenness of being isolated from family and friends did have an impact. “Imagine having no control over being able to see, touch and visit with people when you need them most. Especially for individuals living with cognitive decline, the sudden shut down of life as they knew it—where they felt safe, seen and engaged.”

She underscores that, when it comes to senior living as many other aspects of contemporary life, communication is crucial.

She highlighted some enjoyable and imaginative ways that kept United Active Living residents engaged physically, socially and mentally. “We communicated with residents and their families seven days a week through an update letter, and in place of regular programming, a Good News Bulletin went out each week, as did a weekly email with links to various online events. We supported residents with Zoom calls to family and friends.

“We also had drive-by parades, bands etc., virtual concerts and even concerts over the phone, ice cream carts, special treats and holiday themed door to door activities. We offered art supplies to residents to use in their suites and one-on-one in-suite fitness programming and, as soon as we were able, we re-launched some programs and services cautiously and intentionally.”

The social connection and communication were vital for senior living to deal with the COVID challenges. “Our goal is to always maintain a sense of normalcy,” Boileau notes. “Especially during uncertain times such as this pandemic. We reinvented our approach to resident engagement by redefining our recreational and activity calendar. Utilizing an internal channel on all televisions at the Journey Club, we were able to host daily programing that included wine tastings (wines delivered to every suite), art classes (supplies delivered to all suites), and more social activities.”

Calgary and North American senior living professionals agree that the COVID broadside was merely an unexpected milestone of the innovative road to the evolving new normal in senior living. A new normal which focuses on lifestyle choices and senior’s quality of life. As health and finances continue as important factors for senior living choices, the new normal is dealing with many choices that affect the quality of life and a person’s emotional, mental and physical well-being.

One potent senior living lesson learned from COVID-19 is that senior quality of life is more, much more involved than simply looking after basic health needs are met and that the lifestyle a senior community offers impacts the resident quality of life.