The writer, M.D., is with the Division of Geriatrics, Gerontology and Palliative Medicine at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Neighborly love is a healing salve during difficult times. People who live and work in the long-term care setting currently need extra love and support.
Many nursing home residents have spent the last several months isolated to their rooms and have had all of their regular activities disrupted. They have not been able to spend time with their friends and loved ones. Their access to the outdoors (and therefore fresh air and sunlight) is also very limited due to the constraints that have come from the pandemic. Facility staff are at risk for burn-out and compassion fatigue.
Thankfully, some of the restrictions have recently decreased. However, as outbreaks occur and reoccur, we need to be mindful of ways to reduce isolation and increase neighborly love.
Any person in the community can help. The most important thing is consistency. Regular predictable doses of love are optimal, but anything to let someone know you care or are thinking of them, no matter how frequent or consistent, is wonderful. Even if you don’t know a single person at a care home, you can provide love and joy.
Here is an incomplete list of ideas for how to help, regardless of whether you know someone in the building (please check with the facility first):
Walk around the building and fill the bird feeders or put up bird feeders; parade your pet(s) or child(ren) around the building; deliver cards, art, or activities; become a pen-pal; play an instrument or sing outside of the building; if you are an artist, ask if you could paint the windows with fun pictures (tempera paint works well); consider becoming a certified nursing assistant or other care home staff member to help with worker shortages; bring healthy pre-packaged snacks/treats for the facility staff; raise money, raise awareness, and more.
If you know someone in the care facility, communicate with him/her as regularly as you can (call, text, email, video chat, visiting outside his/her window, cards, letters, pictures, care packages, etc); ask the facility staff what options they are offering for visits and communication; advocate for your loved one and ask what specific things might be helpful for your friend/loved one.
If you reside in a long-term care facility, here are some ideas for how you might choose to help: Write cards and letters to others; write thank you cards to those you are thankful for; give a smile to those around you; tell a bedtime story to a grandchild/niece/nephew over the phone or on video; color a picture for someone; talk to your facility administrator or social worker about how you and the other residents could collectively do a charitable work for the community.
As many people begin to move forward with life during this pandemic, please remember the people who live in long-term care continue to live under the full weight of the pandemic. The support you provide can be the salve that gets someone through the day.
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