For now, technology will replace family touch at senior centers
The sweetest Twitter post on March 13 came from Jack Dura, an excellent news reporter for the Bismarck Tribune newspaper.
Yes, even in the cesspool that is social media, there can be sweetness.
Dura is originally from Fargo. His 87-year-old grandfather, Doug Williams, lives in Edgewood Vista, a senior living center in south Fargo. So when Jack comes home from Bismarck to see family, he makes a point to stop in and see his granddad.
That’s going to change for a while because of the coronavirus pandemic. Senior centers around the nation, including those in our community, are limiting or banning visitors in an effort to protect their residents from the virus, which is particularly dangerous to the elderly.
Family and friends — even spouses, in some cases — are being told they cannot see seniors.
So Dura tweeted the following story:
“My grandpa has managed to keep in good spirits despite his Fargo care facility restricting visitation. I offered to stand below his window and wave from outside.
“He said if his hair were longer, he’d lower it down and pull me up.”
On a third straight surreal day marked by cancellations, suspensions and a sense of foreboding, Dura’s tweet was a shining light worth a smile. In 42 words, Dura captured the love he and his grandfather share for each other.
“With all that’s happening, Grandpa’s feeling pretty isolated,” Dura said in a phone interview. “I offered to wave or hold a sign below his second story window, just so we could see each other.”
Also, the genesis for these questions:
How many other seniors are feeling lonely or stressed because they can’t have family or friends visit because of this dastardly virus?
And what are the staffs of the senior communities doing to combat that sense of loneliness?
A specific answer to the first question might be difficult to pinpoint, but spokeswomen for a couple of local senior living centers say staff and nurses who deal with residents on a daily basis are doing their best to monitor residents’ moods.
The second question is easier. Scheduling more activities is one solution. Crafts, cards, bingo, cooking.
“We’re really making a move to push digital with platforms like Skype, FaceTime and Zoom,” said Jill Leonardi-Wilson, the executive vice president of the Edgewood Health Network, which has almost 1,300 beds in several facilities in North Dakota. “We are encouraging our residents and their families to use the technology that is available. It’s not the same as actually being able to visit, of course, but it can be a good temporary substitute until things return to normal.”
Which hopefully is soon.
The applications Leonardi-Wilson mentioned, if you’re unfamiliar, are video conferencing tools that allow people to speak face-to-face using their phones, tablets or computers. They are very common and relatively easy to use, but might be intimidating for elderly residents unfamiliar with them.
“We’ve talked about how we’re going to make iPads available so our residents can use Zoom Meetings to have face-to-face contact with their loved ones,” said Carrie Carney, vice president of marketing and public relations for Eventide, which operates several senior living communities in the Fargo-Moorhead metro area. “Some of our residents are actually quite computer savvy and already FaceTime with their families. The others, we’ll make sure they have help.”
Technology used for good. What a concept. It can’t replace good old-fashioned human interaction, but it’s better than nothing for the time being.
“We’re encouraging phone calls, too. There are still the traditional ways to communicate,” Carney said. “We know it’s not the same as their loved ones coming in, but hopefully this is just a temporary, short-term thing.”
As for Dura and his grandfather, they’ll keep in touch by phone call, letter and postcard. Yes, despite the fact he’s 26, Dura writes letters and postcards.
Which means some of the residents of the senior facilities will be far more hip than a 26-year-old.
Strange times, these.