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Social opportunities key to seniors’ well-being

  • Lorraine Gleason and Mike Miceli pick up a Friendly Meal to go from the United Church of Jaffrey; Kenny the dog gets a treat too. ABBE HAMILTON / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 5/26/2020 3:56:27 PM

Whether they were homebound before the pandemic or not, area seniors derive comfort from human connection. Seniors who were already homebound are responding to the pandemic in different ways, Evelyn Erb said. She is a licensed master social worker for Home Healthcare, Hospice & Community Services, and works with clients who are unable to leave their home.

“One of the things we notice is the influx of TV news programs can be triggering,” Erb said, to her clients with limited outlets to the outside world. “They’re getting this stream of information that’s often … geared to kind of get people excited and anxious,” she said.

Other clients, particularly those in their 80s and 90s, can be stoic. “I have been struck by the calm of some people,” Erb said, and when she asks some clients how they’re doing, they say, “Well, you know, I’ve seen a lot.” Erb said she believes these clients’ lived experiences, whether with deprivation or loss, have made them lifelong adapters with amazing inner resources, and they may not be letting panicky media messages get through to them quite as much. “[They have] that inclination to reassure,” she said, and tell her, “We’ve gone through worse, we’re gonna get through this,” she said. She’s observed clients with a “seemingly unstoppable” instinct to help others right now, even as they technically shouldn’t be going out if they’re receiving benefits for being homebound. Clients with few family resources of their own have been taking risks to help others in need, she said. “It is just amazing,” she said, and reminds them that they shouldn’t be going out, and should be taking proper precautions if they do.

Many seniors in the Jaffrey area stop by the United Church of Jaffrey to pick up their Friendly Meal, now delivered carside to-go Mondays through Fridays. On a rainy Friday, Nancy and Dennis Lamoreux chatted briefly with organizer Kathleen LaRou, who brought bag lunches to their car before moving on to the next vehicle. Not seeing people has been difficult, Nancy said, but even just going out for the drive to pick up the lunch is a welcome break. The couple said they used to attend the lunches two or three times a week, mostly to meet and visit with others.

LaRou said the lunch distribution, although not the same as the in-person meals, is still an opportunity to keep an eye on the health of her regulars. She also calls to check on attendees who haven’t been coming in to pick up their lunches. The location is also a distribution site for Meals on Wheels, where volunteers’ daily or weekly visits are more important than ever for assessing the welfare of shut-in residents, albeit briefly, LaRou said.

In Peterborough, senior programming has continued in the form of weekly newsletters and Zoom get-togethers, facilitated by Senior Program Specialist Gloria Schultz.

During one virtual Lunch Bunch meeting, six regular members of the group logged in for their Friday chat. One member, Charlene, described the crisis she’d sorted out after an animal got into her bee boxes. Later on, the group sang a digitally-delayed “Happy Birthday” to one caller, and later discussed how to help seven regular participants who had been recently hospitalized.

Having the group online is a lifeline, said Kathy, one participant who logged on with her husband. “We don’t see anyone, we don’t talk to anyone, we have no community whatsoever,” she said.

The tenor of the conversation hasn’t changed much from the in-person lunches, although some say they miss the accompanying meal.

“Just when you’re feeling low, a group member will share a corny joke or something your pets are doing. They’re a great support,” a participant named Kathy said.

Many participants said the Lunch Bunch was their first brush with Zoom, but had also used the technology to visit with their families and attend church services. One wondered how people got through the Spanish Flu without so much as a radio. Everybody with internet at home has learned the new technologies to stay connected, Schulz said, with nobody sitting out due to unwillingness to try a new format.

Memory care patients have their own challenges in dealing with COVID-19. “With Alzheimers especially, routine is important,” Christine Selmer, director of the Monadnock Adult Care Center in Jaffrey said. The care center typically hosts between 20 and 25 of its 50 overall clients on any given day. It closed on March 16, and has switched to providing services by calling and checking on clients at their residences.

Staff have noticed check-in calls getting longer because some clients are feeling lonely and isolated.. “A lot of them are watching TV and trying to process it. . . . This is very unnerving,” for people who lived through hard times before, she said. “We notice it in their talking, but talking it out has been hugely beneficial,” she said, and some clients call in to chat as well. Others are having a hard time understanding what’s happening. One client asks why they’re not open if not for a snow cancellation, Selmer said.

Getting an eye on the client is the most important thing right now, Selmer said. “They can tell you they’re doing good, but seeing is believing,” she said, especially for clients with additional conditions like diabetes. The staff is making visits in the center’s “Happy Bus,” which is familiar to clients who would usually ride it. They brought clients pansies one day, and are moving into bringing them picnic lunches and activity bags tailored to each person, so they can get some more nutritious food than they might otherwise have.

Without their regular schedule, some of their clients have stopped grooming themselves. In the second and third week of check-ins, staff members noticed some clients hadn’t bathed or shaved, or hadn’t put their dentures in. “They don’t know what day it is . . . all the days are kind of rolling together,” she said, although noting that she herself has felt the same as of late. She said they’re looking into increasing visits from one to two times a week.

Clients living with family members are faring better, overall, she said, but nobody is too isolated. Other clients, like a man who recently turned 95, have no family but a huge social network to check in on them, she said. “He deserves a parade,” she said, and that the staff, in masks and gloves, handed him over a card and an Easter lily in lieu of a traditional party.

The Adult Care Center is working out how it will look to reopen eventually, Selmer said, although she believes they’ll be one of the last business types to be allowed to do so. “Getting someone with Alzheimer’s to wear a mask is going to be a challenge,” she said, and they’re taking their lead from the DHHS to figure out how to operate. She figured that, after an initial reintroduction period, most of her clients will get right back into the routine.

If you’re experiencing isolation, it’s most important to make sure your basic needs are met, Erb said, and then to try to establish some kind of regular routine, prioritizing sleep, hydration and nutrition. There are a number of ways for residents or family members to help elders, Erb said, even if visiting in person isn’t an option right now.

Phone calls are a good way for neighbors, and family members to help elderly residents who might be feeling isolated, Erb said. Especially with someone feeling agitated about the current situation, it can be helpful just to listen, reflect back and help the person identify what they need most in the moment, she said, and connect them with a service or medical program if it seems warranted. Monadnock At Home is one local organization running organized check-in calls, and volunteers can sign up at 371-0809. Any resident with concerns about an elderly neighbor can express their concerns to the Bureau of Elderly and Adult Services. Out-of-state family members can call 211 on a New Hampshire resident’s behalf, Erb said, or research what local markets deliver to home, or other community services a resident could receive if their normal caregiving routine has been disrupted.

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.

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