The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted the elderly in long-term care. As they represent a vulnerable population, various protective measures are put into place for their safety and well-being. While providing a high level of safety and care, long-term care facilities face the impossible choice between depriving residents of human interaction and contact and inviting the virus. This limited or restricted social interaction has caused them to feel social isolation, having infrequent social contact with others and/or few social relationships. The damage of social isolation is heavily overlooked.
This isolation has led to feelings of loneliness. Feelings of loneliness have many consequences on the elderly such as depression, anxiety, aggressive behaviors, etc, as well as, physical effects such as cognitive decline, progression of Alzheimer’s disease, elevated blood pressure, etc. Loneliness consists of 3 dimensions, First is personal loneliness which is the absence of a person who provides emotional support and affirms their value as a person. Second, is the absence of a sympathy group, 15 – 50 people who you see regularly and enjoy being around. Lastly, is the lack of an active network group, a larger group that provides support by being together in a group. Isolation and specifically, social isolation, has taken away these groups which have created a lack of connection. Moreover, the unfulfilled need for meaningful relationships and connections plays a big role in feelings of loneliness.
COVID-19 (Isolation) and Elderly in Long Term Care
OVERVIEW OF THE PROJECT:
Prior to the pandemic and isolation, however, many long-term facilities and volunteers/organizations have grappled with the issue to an extent. There have been intervention plans, activities/problems implemented, promotion of social well-being, etc, however, the implementation of positive psychology and meaningful relationships is not really evident. I hope to propose a 4-week long connection workshop that centers around gratitude as well as a long-term plan that aims to create meaningful connections in the lives of the elderly amid social isolation.
GRATITUDE THROUGH CONNECTION:
Gratitude helps us see the good in everyday, improving our connections with others
Gratitude is defined as “the appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself and represents a general state of thankfulness and/or appreciation”. There is a lot of research and neuroscience behind the benefits of gratitude on one’s well-being, happiness, resilience, relationships, etc. There is a multitude of evidence supporting the link between gratitude and social connections/interpersonal relationships and satisfaction. There are two different types of gratitude practices that can help create and maintain interpersonal connections, those that involve feeling gratitude and those that involve expressing gratitude. When we feel more gratitude for the good in the world and the people around us, our feelings of security and connectedness increase. We can also observe this through a neuroscience lens. When the brain feels gratitude, parts of the brain including the ventral and dorsal medial prefrontal cortex are activated. These areas are involved in interpersonal bonding, positive social interactions, and understanding. Moreover, gratitude increases a neurotransmitter known as oxytocin which is involved in social behaviors and bonding. When we express gratitude, on the other hand, changes how we feel our social connections and relationships. A study conducted on expressing gratitude vs feeling gratitude showed how when the participants expressed gratitude for another, they saw their relationship as a way to support each other and help each other without personal gain, something that is known as communal strength. This did not occur in those who simply thought about being grateful. Lastly, expressing gratitude reinforces pro-social behavior such as kindness, generosity as when there is an open display of gratitude in a relationship, both people are more likely to repeat the action or behavior of gratitude.
I plan on creating a sense of community and connection between the elderly in long-term care and those outside their community, volunteers, administrators, workers, etc through conducting a virtual workshop. My aim is to create a virtual bi-weekly workshop that consists of workers of long-term care facilities, volunteers, and the elderly in long-term care and centers around gratitude. This weekly workshop will take place twice a week for 4 weeks. Each week will focus on a combination of different gratitude practices, those that focus on the feeling of gratitude and those that focus on the expression of gratitude. Each elderly participant will be assigned a volunteer or a worker that they will meet once a week during the workshop sessions as this creates connections with those outside of their community.
Although this workshop does provide a concrete plan to create connection through gratitude practices, the only way to sustain this connection is to implement long-term changes into the lives of the elderly and long-term care facilities. Here are few changes that can be made or implemented. These are also some ways that you help the elderly in long-term care and connect with them.
- Daily Gratitude Practices – The elderly can partake in a small gratitude practice every day. This could be something like the “3 Good Things Practice” which requires you to take 5 mins out of your day to reflect upon what you are grateful for.
- Creating a Buddy System – Creating a buddy system, where a volunteer or worker is paired with a senior to meet often is a way to continue creating and sustaining meaningful relationships and connections.
- Kind Words from Volunteers. This is something that is currently implemented in many long-term facilities. Volunteers can send in cards, letters, calls, videos, etc that include words of encouragement and kindness that can help the elderly maintain a connection with those outside their community as well as create meaning in their lives.
- Simulated Presence Therapy. This is a way for families to keep in touch with residents. This involves a family member recording questions and answers similar to a conversation or phone call where there’s a pause for the elderly to say something.
FEEDBACK AND REFLECTION:
I would greatly appreciate it if you could answer a few questions regarding your insights and feedback for this project on this Padlet.