Thanksgiving was a lonely holiday for many people this year, but especially for those in senior living facilities.
Valley View Senior Life made an effort to make the holiday easier for its residents, according to the facility’s Life Enrichment Supervisor Joni Kappel.
Kappel said the residents had a traditional but socially distanced Thanksgiving lunch.
Resident Vincent Biehler took part in the meal.
“It was a good one,” he said. “I ended up having three meals.”
Last year, he missed the Thanksgiving dinner because he was sick in the hospital and by the time he returned to Valley View there was no turkey left. Biehler said the staff made sure he got an extra dose of Thanksgiving to make up for what he had missed.
While Biehler said he enjoyed this year’s celebration, he said he was not happy with the current social distancing situation.
“I don’t like it at all,” he said. “I can’t wait until this is all over and we’re back together.”
He misses being able to spend time with his children and other family members and hopes he and other residents will be able to spend time with friends and family again by Christmastime. This is what he wants for Christmas, he said.
“I’m hoping that this disease or whatever you want to call it is over with and we’re all back together,” Biehler said.
In the meantime, Biehler has been taking part in bingo sessions and listening to music with other residents in the common areas, while COVID-19 safety measures are observed. Biehler said he has begun getting manicures on a weekly basis, lately in festive colors.
“Since I’ve been here, I’m painting my fingernails … I had a hard time telling my wife,” he said. “She just about dropped the phone."
Little things such as this add a splash of color to Biehler's and other residents’ lives.
Social isolation has been taking place for these seniors since back in March after Kansas experienced its first documented case of COVID-19.
“There have been some struggles emotionally,” Kappel said. “Some of them are really struggling. It’s hard to be away from your family and isolated. For the most part, they’ve been troopers, really. But there’s always a struggle with that.”
Family members are still able to visit with residents through the windows, which allows some contact. Visitors speak with residents through the glass, allowing residents to see and interact with their guests while still keeping the residents themselves safe from COVID-19.
Most residents have received visitors this way and do so about once a week, according to Kappel and Valley View’s Director of Marketing Melissa Tyson.
There’s also still the option of phone calls, FaceTime, texts and letters from friends and relatives.
It’s not ideal, but it’s something.
“I don’t think that they love that, but I think that they appreciate that as an offer as opposed to absolutely nothing,” Kappel said.
“We have a lot of options, it’s just that they physically cannot give the hugs or be in the same room,” Tyson said.
It is likely to remain this way for the duration of the holiday season, through Christmas and New Year’s, according to Kappel, with residents interacting with each other using masks and social distancing and with visitors through glass. Kappel said she believes this will help residents stay happy and mentally healthy through what could be a difficult holiday season.
“I think that we’ll have to do our best to meet their social needs here as the staff and encourage their families to continue visiting at the windows and doing video and FaceTime,” she said.
According to Tyson, the activities team has tried to keep residents busy with holiday-themed activities they can do safely, including decorating for Christmas Monday. Upcoming activities include an ugly sweater contest, Christmas bingo, a Christmas party, holiday-themed cocktails, and a New Year’s Party, among other things, she said.
“We are doing what we can,” she said.
Kappel said the staff was trying to steer residents’ focus away from the stress of COVID-19.
“We do our best not to focus on that and to kind of try to reiterate to them that they are healthy and that’s why we’re doing this is to try to keep them healthy and their families healthy,” she said. “We try to keep their spirits up a little bit and not really focus on the negative stuff."