Social distancing requirements in nursing homes and assisted living residences present their own unique set of challenges during this pandemic.

To address this, the staff at Chelsea Jewish Lifecare has been working hard to make sure the residents are engaged, active and happy.

“We have implemented a variety of creative activities for our residents,” said Ellen Gordon, director of resident life at Chelsea Jewish Lifecare. “Despite sheltering in place, our residents are staying active, both socially and physically. In fact, the pandemic has brought us closer together. There is a sense of camaraderie between the staff, residents and families that is very comforting.”

In terms of activities, an interactive bingo game at Harriett and Ralph Kaplan Estates in Peabody ​is ​a big hit! The bingo squares are filled with information about the staff, such as which staff member visited a foreign country or which one is a gourmet cook.

Volunteers continue to play an important role by interacting with residents. Although they cannot physically be inside the residences, their presence is felt in many ways. “Our volunteers have continued to nurture their relationships with our residents,” said Gordon. “They send cards, write letters and contribute to our weekly joke books.” The staff is now compiling their 16th book of jokes.

“Everyone loves our ‘Clever Captions’ contest,” said Gordon. “We start with an intriguing picture, then residents create a caption, put their name on the reverse side and tape it in front of the picture. Judges award a prize to the most creative caption.” Added Gordon with a chuckle, “The competition is fierce!”

Over on the Chelsea campus at Cohen Florence Levine Estates and Florence & Chafetz Specialized Care, each resident receives a “Daily Delight” workbook. It consists of such games as word searches, crossword puzzle, sudoku puzzles and coloring games. Weekly bingo games, courtyard walks, art projects and a mix of contests strengthen the bond between residents and staff members.

“We are constantly finding new ways to socialize with our residents, making sure they stay active and engaged,“ said Jimmy Honohan, recreational programming director at Chelsea Jewish Lifecare. “Our short story books are a hot commodity!” To date, the staff has created three story books that residents seem to thoroughly enjoy. More are planned for the summer.

The staff also distributes a weekly newsletter, which includes a challenge to write a haiku, similar to a short poem. One resident  submitted three different ones and two were selected to appear in Senior Media Living magazine. “We were all so excited for her,” said Honohan. “She’s a whiz at composing these expressive poems.”

Live concerts are another popular activity. At Florence & Chafetz, each resident is treated to their own private concert for a full 30 minutes. Doorway sing-alongs create a festive atmosphere, as well as weekly Zoom concerts that feature a medley of hit oldies songs. Residents can watch the concerts on their computers and iPads.

According to Joseph “Coty” Miller, recreation program director at Leonard Florence Center for Living in Chelsea, the last few months have given way to a multitude of creative projects and activities. “We have found innovative ways to continue our much-loved programs and embrace new forms of technology to keep our residents in close contact with their families. At the same time, our focus is to provide daily exercise and social interaction.”

Activities include raffles to win DVD players or lunch at a local restaurant, word search games, card games and puzzles, live and virtual concerts and presentations, and movies streamed directly to the rooms via Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+. Ice cream sundaes, delivered to each resident by staff members, are a frequent and welcome treat.

Miller noted that the staff has made it a priority to spend time alone with each resident. “Because group activities are limited, we concentrate upon individual activities for each resident, whether it be taking a walk, playing cards or engaging in an art project.” Added Miller, “This one-on-one time together is very special, for us and for the residents.”

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