The COVID-19 pandemic has brought novel challenges to us all. It is testing everyone’s resolve to limit your lifestyle to protect others and manage your own mental/physical health. Wearing a face mask and physical distancing have become the norm. Meanwhile, the governor's stay-at-home order revealed how much we need other people. We are social animals. Without normal interactions … the returned smiles, the talk, the acknowledgement … we become lost in a desert of loneliness. Mother’s Day came with the sad realization that celebrating with Grandma meant sitting in the driveway, waving through a glass window or talking on a phone. We are all victims in this war against COVID-19, on so many levels. Some are high-profile victims, like hospitalized patients not allowed to have visitors, high school graduates not allowed to celebrate and the small businesses/restaurants that will not open again. Then there are the forgotten victims, overlooked by society. These are our elders who are no longer in their own homes … the “independent livers trapped in transitional facilities serving as portals to long term care.

We know the elderly and those with certain pre-existing conditions are more likely to be adversely affected from a COVID-19 infection. Most deaths statewide are in long-term care and assisted living facilities. It is no wonder senior living facilities have become very strict about limiting potential transmission of disease. While this seems to fall in line with reasonable precautions, those living independently get grouped with the rest and are subject to the same rules. Independent elders living in these facilities are particularly hit hard because many of them are on limited budgets, living alone, have limited family interactions under the new rules and are technically challenged with things like email, Facetime and Zoom. Severely limiting their social interaction with strict rules approaches imprisonment. My mother-in-law is an independent liver and is a poster-grandmother of exactly what I’m talking about. She drives but cannot leave. She loves to play Bingo but can’t. The facility library for books/computers is closed. Knitting club/book club, canceled. Wednesday evening church services, canceled. She has basic cable without movies and an iPhone 5; limited budget and technology. Her homestead has become her Alcatraz. Interestingly, she pays the same amount in rent as she did three months ago except now with no services. Preserve and protect I get. Meanwhile, there is mental & physical harm.

Senior living facilities in Minnesota need to adapt/transform in this pandemic. They need to be creative, innovative and keep the lights on … in the minds of our elders and for the future of their business. There are many things that can be done to engage their facility residents like:

1. Make sure each resident has access to movies (extended cable, prime, Netflix, etc) and include it in their rent. Then make sure they know how to use it;

2. Have community social events inside/outside, with masks and physical distancing – concerts, magic shows, movie night and bingo can be done safely with care/creativity.

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3. Exercise classes can be held with safe distancing and masks.

4. Ensure all residents have access to their religion of choice through safe distancing services or web streaming.

With some creativity and thinking outside the box, the needs of our elders can be met. It can be done. It needs to be done. I challenge all senior living facilities to adapt, make a new norm and create a bright, engaging environment in which our elders can thrive despite the pandemic. They deserve nothing less.