We are social animals, we need regular and ongoing contact with other human beings for our emotional, psychological, and physical well-being. However, the pandemic has forced us to limit our contact as a way of stopping the spread of the virus and bringing the pandemic under control. Around the country—and around the world—social distancing measures have been in place for almost a year now, forcing us to stay apart and thus reducing the social interactions that we regularly have to extremely low levels. This has begun to take an emotional, mental, and physical toll on everyone, but particularly on the elderly, many of whom were already somewhat isolated from family, friends, and loved ones even before the pandemic began.
In our previous blog l had mentioned that elderly people who have a wide social network and are actively socially engaged have greater emotional and mental stability and are less likely to experience a decline in their cognitive abilities. Hence, meaningful social engagement is of primary importance for the mental and emotional well-being of the elderly. Care homes and assisted living facilities have been conscientious about enforcing social distancing measures, but in general, faced with the challenge of keeping the residents meaningfully engaged.
During this time of pandemic, AlfredHouse has made concerted efforts to keep the Residents meaningfully engaged. Music therapy, arts and crafts, music trivia and simply sitting and reminiscing has helped the Residents greatly.
Meaningful engagement is the idea that the elderly, especially those with dementia, should be encouraged to participate actively in a given activity, in which their input is acknowledged and valued, their skills and abilities are recognized and applauded, and their opinions and feelings respected. In such social encounters, they are allowed to speak for themselves or about ‘Uncle George’ and ‘Aunt Lucy’. When they speak, they should be made to feel important, being listened to actively. Their personhood is acknowledged and this can be done by drawing upon their biography and life experiences. This type of interaction gives them a sense of belonging and connection.
At AlfredHouse we use tools designed by BCAT to engage Residents meaningfully. One such tool is the MemPics, meaningful engagement book series, which can be used on cell phones, Skype, Zoom, and other such virtual media platforms. The series is designed to be used by anyone who interacts with an elderly person, including family members and other loved ones. The series consists of thematically arranged sets of pictures about people, places, events, and things that might be familiar to the elderly person, accompanied by guided activities related to each picture. The goal is to activate old memories, and by doing so, to stimulate active engagement in the activity. The three types of activities that can be used with each picture are: (1) presenting interesting facts about the picture that can be commented on or discussed; (2) asking stimulating questions about the picture; and (3) reading a short story connected with the picture. These activities can be conducted individually or in a group. The series can be purchased on Amazon.com. For more information about the series and how to buy the books, visit: https://www.thebcat.com/mempics