I happen to be a high-energy, compassionate, and creative individual, who believes in taking every opportunity I get to help those in need. As a Social Engagement Specialist for Capital City Nurses, I’ve been enabled to do just that for the last 17 years! Through our “Daughter-Down-the-Street” program, I provide cheerful companionship and cognitive activity through customized social visits to seniors living with dementia, and other age-related disease.
My mission is to encourage and help people stay meaningfully connected to family, friends, and communities, and to hopefully, rediscover their personal passions along the way. I begin gaining trust by mindful listening and friendly conversation, then introduce creative activities and offer inspiring outings to achieve my goal.
Throughout the years, it’s been my privilege to help seniors with everything from daily errands and shopping to lunching at a favorite restaurant, taking in a movie, play, or even a concert at the Kennedy Center. Together, we’ve frequented neighborhood bookstores, coffee shops, as well as small venue, cultural treasures such as the Phillips Collection and Dumbarton Oaks. We’ve toured almost every museum in the Smithsonian…including the National Zoo…where we watched in wonder as pandas played and ate bamboo. We’ve discovered fascinating, facts about our world and beyond at National Geographic Museum, and traveled through presidential history at Mount Vernon, Lincoln’s Cottage, and even The White House. Exploring formal gardens in and around our city remains a very popular outing. We’ve been charmed by the fabulous, outdoor “rooms” at Hillwood, soothed by the serenity of Bishops Garden (Washington National Cathedral), and delighted “walking through” butterflies at Brookside Gardens. In Springtime, we strolled along the Tidal Basin and experienced the enchanting beauty of our Cherry Blossoms trees in full bloom. Come Summer, we spied hummingbirds in the park, and later, fireflies at dark. We’ve cruised and paddled the Potomac to view our incredible, national monuments from the rivers’ perspective. I especially enjoyed accompanying seniors to family celebrations and milestone events. Whether a casual, birthday picnic or formal reception on Embassy Row, it’s always heartwarming to witness the joy of families just being together.
Of course, I’m fondly reminiscing about outings on hold since the Covid-19 virus literally stopped us in our tracks last March. Nonetheless, we in the home healthcare industry are keenly aware of the urgency for seniors to not only maintain their daily activities, but to try new ones as well. Exercising our brain as well as our body is necessary to retain a positive mental attitude, good health as well as a sense of purpose in life. So, the question is…how can we continue to help seniors stay connected to the people, places, and passions they love…while navigating the many restrictions a global pandemic has placed on us all? In my experience, to put it simply, “if there’s a will there’s a way!” Many activities can be modified, yet still yield the positive results that are so important to the health and well-being of our seniors. It just takes a little creativity. Depending on the individual, try both traditional and more modern “high tech” activities from the suggestions below, until you come up with just the right recipe for healthy and happy engagement!
“Reach out and touch someone ”Not really…not just yet! Do, however, remind seniors and encourage family members to make more frequent phone calls. Especially during the dark of winter, a short and sweet call can do wonders to lift the spirits. Or…Facilitate a Facetime call or Zoom meeting, if possible. Coordinate with family and friends a good date and the best time of day to make a successful connection.
Eat Well Many seniors are missing going out to restaurants, but with little effort you can create an intimate “café” experience, right at home. Prepare a favorite meal, set a special table, and adjust lighting to achieve just the right “restaurant” ambiance. Or…Introduce and facilitate online delivery services such as Door Dash, Uber eats, etc. for a special meal! Being able to scroll through different menus before making a selection encourages a sense of independence and satisfaction.
Keep Moving Walking is by far the most popular and accessible exercise for seniors who are mobile. Whether it’s up and down a hallway, around the block, or inside a mall, as the saying goes, “Just do it.” If the individual is unable to stand or walk unassisted, put on some big band music and make up a simple, chair exercise routine to do at a regular time each day! Or… Find an age-appropriate exercise video on You Tube, pump up the volume and go for it!
Take a trip down Memory Lane With so many seniors separated from loved ones, reminiscing can be an important tool to fight off feelings of isolation. Look through photos albums together and ask the person to name as many people pictured as he/she can. Encourage storytelling of special places and life events depicted in the photos. Or…Enable them to view photos in “real time” via a smartphone or Ipad for an instant lift!
Play Games Scrabble, word searches, and crossword puzzles are tried and true, cognitive activities that promote a sense of accomplishment, and can be done even while social distancing. Working on a colorful, jigsaw puzzle together is currently a very popular activity…but details matter here! Choose a puzzle subject the individual can relate with, as well as the appropriate size and number of pieces. I often find playing soft, classical music for background really enhances the experience. Or…if preferred, introduce an online game such as “Wordscapes” or “Jigsaw” and see how many “levels” can be achieved.
Music is Magic Music has a universal ability to boost mood, reduce agitation, and increase happiness and engagement. Listen to favorite songs (radio) together, even have an impromptu sing-along or dance! A recent client had an old-fashioned jukebox in her home, and a favorite activity was to push random selections and then dance to whatever songs came on! Or…Go to You tube, select a music channel of interest, relax and enjoy.
“You’ve got Mail” Communicating by cards and letters is a wonderful and easy way to stay in touch. Remember, what we now call “snail mail” was their custom and has been long cherished by senior citizens. Or…Offer to assist with sending emails. I regularly visit a retired businessman who can no longer manage a keyboard, but still loves to “dictate” notes for me to email his family and friends. Easy to do and provides a sense of connectivity.
Encourage Creativity and Culture There’s never been a better time to re-connect with the art of drawing and/or coloring than right now. Fresh pencils, crayons, or markers and paper are all you need to create. Or… There is also an incredible array of curated material and artistic activities to choose from online. Visit the “Google Arts & Culture” website or download the app to “color” a Van Gogh masterpiece or take in an exhibit at the Muse’e d’Orsay in Paris or wherever the heart desires.
Nature Nurtures Pandemic or not, we all benefit from spending at least a few minutes outside every day. Breathing in fresh air, watching birds fly or squirrels play is often the only bright spot in an otherwise, gray winter day. If current restrictions prohibit outdoor time, open the shades, and let the sunshine in! I’ve found seniors who care for even a small plant on a windowsill can experience the feelings of peace and calm inspired by communing with nature. Or…turn on PBS or visit the Nature YouTube channel to learn something new about our natural world.
Armchair Travel Especially now, many people are fantasizing about finding escape in a distant land. Ask where they’ve always dreamed of visiting…and then make it happen! Most bookstores and neighborhood libraries are still open for check out service. In either venue, search for a “coffee table” style or travel book of the desired location and enjoy exploring together. Or…travel anywhere in the world via Google Arts & Culture “Places” site. Take a virtual tour of the Great Wall of China, see the Northern Lights in Greenland or checkout the Great Pyramids of Egypt…all in the same afternoon.
Remember, it’s the journey, not the actual destination that matters!