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How To Help People In Nursing Homes Who Can't Get Visitors Because Of Coronavirus

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While everyone is at risk for being infected by the coronavirus, there’s no doubt that seniors face the greatest threat. And for those living in nursing homes, it seems that the situation might even be more dire — which is why so many facilities are banning visitors. But seniors thrive on visits from loved ones, so how can you help nursing home residents during the coronavirus scare? They're bound to be feeling a little extra lonely.

There are plenty of ways to brighten a senior's day from a distance, and you don't have to know them personally to reach out. Still, you might use this experience as a way to make real connections: When the ban on visitations is lifted, nursing home president and administrator Jennifer Malone-Seixas, MA, EdM, suggests visiting some of the residents you've helped in person.

“It can become a full-circle experience for everyone,” says Malone-Seixas. “It will be even more meaningful that way.”

As hard as it might be to tell your little ones they won't be able to visit Grandpa for a little while, staying away is the right thing to do. Older adults are at a much greater risk for contracting COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported; since the onset of the pandemic, 26 residents died at the Life Care Center, a nursing home in Kirkland, WA, according to Business Insider, of which 13 were confirmed to have had COVID-19. (Now, there are 51 confirmed coronavirus cases.)

In an attempt to prevent similar outbreaks, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (a subdivision of the Department of Health & Human Services) issued new guidelines to help prevent the further spread of coronavirus to nursing home patients. According to these new rules, facilities are being urged to screen visitors and restrict access to those who might be showing signs of a respiratory infection. It also includes people who have traveled internationally within the last 14 days, or have had contact with an infected individual as well.

Truly, there’s no better time than now to show your support for the elderly residents in your community. While you won’t be able to do an in-person visit, these tips can help you to do some good until the ban is lifted.

1. Donate Those Devices You Have Lying Around

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Since seniors currently can’t have face-to-face contact with their loved ones, the next best thing is video chatting. But some residents might not have access to that kind of technology. So consider donating your old iPads or tablets so that they can keep up the communication with their family members. “If people donate their old equipment, we can sanitize it, and show our residents how to use it,” says Malone-Seixas. “It can help those individuals who are used to daily visits deal with the separation.”

If you're not familiar with any nursing homes in your area, Google "nursing homes near me" (and always call facilities to make sure they can use your devices before showing up).

2. Create Some Cards

After a few days of being home with your kiddos due to school closures, you’re bound to get a bit stir crazy. That’s when you should break out the crafts and start creating some cards for the nursing home residents. “The seniors love anything kid-related,” says Malone-Seixas. “They would love to receive cards from children.” You might even call the nursing home to see which seniors could benefit the most from a card, and have your child personalize the card for that specific individual.

3. Make It Seasonal

While no one can predict how long the coronavirus will last, there are some upcoming holidays that the elderly might miss out on spending with their loved ones. And while most nursing homes do have a ton of activities planned for their residents, you can still send in something seasonal that they can enjoy. “People in the community can send in something like a program that relates to this time of the month,” suggests Malone-Seixas, such as a seasonally-appropriate DVD. “Since St. Patrick’s Day is next week, someone could send in a video about the parade, or something that reminds the seniors that spring is coming soon.”

4. Provide Some Festiveness

The staffers at nursing homes work hard to keep things festive and fun for their residents — but they can always use extra help. “Decorations are a big deal for seniors,” says Malone-Seixas. Even though you won’t be able to do the decorating yourself, why not send in a box of décor to adorn some of the residents’ rooms? “They love very colorful things,” says Malone-Seixas. “Decorations would definitely make them happy.”

5. Send Some Flowers

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Flowers are a no-fail way to brighten a nursing home resident’s day. You can pick up a plant or order flowers to be delivered to the residence, and the staffers will see to it that it goes to an elder who could really use it. “You don’t have to worry about seasonal allergies, because we’ll know who can receive the flowers or plants,” says Malone-Seixas. It can be a great pick-me-up for seniors who are missing their loved ones right about now.

Since it’s anybody’s guess how long COVID-19 will last, it’s important to make an effort to help the elderly people in your community feel better. And who knows? You might even make some new friends in the process.

If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all our Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here on this page, and Bustle’s constantly updated, general “what to know about coronavirus” here.

Experts:

Jennifer Malone-Seixas, MA, EdM, president and administrator at Hancock Hall nursing home in Danbury, CT