How to Keep Our Elders Engaged and Feel Safe in the Wake of

A Pandemic

This is a crazy time in our long-term care world … to say the least!

People who live in your building are feeling vulnerable and scared right now - and being compromised due to health issues, doesn’t make people feel any safer. And at the same time, staff are in a state of chaos due to this unprecedented virus. We all need to be cognizant of this and be available to provide comfort and security. Remember, our elders read our feelings. If we are acting anxious, concerned or “over energized” because we are dealing with this unmatched situation, the people who live in our communities will pick up on these feelings. It is important that we take deep breaths and minimize concerning conversations in front of our elders, particularly those who are more cognitively challenged. Talk about this with your staff; listen to their concerns; provide them opportunity to vent and remind them that part of our responsibility is to maintain the quality of life for those that we serve while we are experiencing this pandemic! 

So how do we keep those who live in your community feel engaged and safe? First and foremost, it’s important to know who the individual is. Just giving people things to do that has no meaning and purpose for the individual, does not provide quality to peoples’ lives. Use the tools that you already have in place to disclose things that are important to your elders and to seek out what has meaning and value at a very personal level. Tools to use include:

  • Activity Assessment or Life Enrichment Assessment
  • Social Service History and Assessment
  • For those in Skilled/Intermediate Care, the MDS 3.0 Section F

If you are still at a loss of what is meaningful for the person and they cannot communicate their desires, give the loved ones a call. They will appreciate that you have reached out to them at this time of concern and you will also gain some very valuable information. Ask: How did your loved one spend the day prior to coming here? What did they really seem to enjoy doing? When you picture your loved one smiling and having a good time, what were they doing? 

Once you obtain this personalized information, here are some ideas of things that may compliment your elder’s interests and needs:

  • Take a trip to the Dollar Store and buy a bunch of individualized engagement opportunities AND a lot of Ziplock bags! Pay special attention to buy things that match people’s interest – cards for solitaire, puzzle books, sketching pads, magazines, books, checker sets, jigsaw puzzles. Put on your creative hats when walking the store. The Dollar Store even has simple craft projects that may fulfill peoples’ needs! When giving these to people, put their names on the item. When storing the item, put it into a Ziplock bag so that we don’t cross contaminate materials.
  • Still play bingo!
    • Make copies of the cards or get on this site and make your own themed cards and toss them in the garbage at the end of the program o Instead of chips, use candy, felt markers or make card board markers/chips that could be tossed as well. 
    • If using felt markers, put each person’s name on a Ziplock bag to store these for each individual to minimize cross contamination.
    • A great engagement opportunity could be to have your residents make their own bingo markers/chips!
    • Play Virtual Bingo. If you have a TV networking system in your building, get on this site: and play bingo all over your building at the same time. You can station staff on the floors to listen for “Bingo!” being shouted from people’s rooms. Give the staff walkie talkies to communicate with each other!
  • If people are missing their families, set-up Skype opportunities or make scheduled calls between the elders and their friends and families so that people don’t get disappointed when they call if the person is not available.
  • Trivia and discussion groups don’t need any equipment. Continue to do these but make the conversations pertinent to people’s interests! 
  • Use your Smart TV or hook up a computer to your “dumb” TV and go on a trip. Explore different countries, take a tour of neighborhoods where people grew up using google maps, go on a Safari. Get creative and have fun traveling at this time when travel is limited!
  • Get on Facebook and look up some of your resident’s past friends that they may have lost contact with and help them get reconnected or help them “snoop” on people that they are curious about!
  • You can download adult coloring sheets off the internet that match people’s abilities. (Google adult coloring sheets, and the possibilities are limitless!) Just remember to keep people’s colored pencils separate using the Ziplock bag technique.
  • Order Talking Books for those who have difficulty reading due to cognitive or visual issues so people can get books and magazines that interest them personally. This is free and the audio reading materials include current books as well as magazines such as People, Ebony, Sports Illustrated, etc. (BTW, each long-term care community is eligible to receive 2 machines for the building to use and this is FREE for everyone!)
  • Go room-to-room with your portable oven and cook things such as personalized pizzas! Set up individualized baking kits to keep this germ free. Get staff in on this as well so that they can enjoy a snack!
  • Give roommates box games to play together. Encourage people to still engage with each other in a safe manner and don’t isolate people if it isn’t necessary.

Share these ideas with your staff, put on those “thinking caps” and have FUN at this time of great need!

Documentation Implications:

If everyone is confined to their rooms, I am recommending that we add an approach to everyone's care plan to cover this situation.

Sample: During in- room restriction, staff will assure that Mr. Jones quality of life needs are met by providing personalized engagement based upon his interest such as (fill in blank with interest that pertains to him). 

Side Note: When people are in isolation, they should always get a revised care plan in regards to quality of life that discusses how people’s needs will be met while confined to their room.

As far as the MDS Section F, this should not impact how we are competing this. We should always be filling in these questions with whatever the resident tells us whether or not it is feasible for the person or not. This rule has never changed. So, if the person says that group activities is Very Important, Important, or Important but can’t do, we record whatever response they have verbalized. We would then explain in the notes why this cannot be offered at this time: 

         Sample: Due to COVID-19 and the CMS restrictions placed on the community, Mr. Jones is unable to come to group programs that are    

                      very important to him. In room programming such as (fill in with what matches his interest and in his care plan) will be provided 

                      to assist in meeting his needs at this time.

Last but not least, I suggest that we write up a QAPI to cover your prevention plan for social isolation! Include what you are doing and implement steps to monitor your residents on a regular basis to ensure they stay safe. If you need assistance with this, feel free to contact us at: [email protected] / (847)239-2551/