How can different gratitude practices help the elderly in long-term care feel connections with those within and outside their community in a time of isolation?

BACKGROUND:

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.

MY RESPONSE:

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.

Workshop Plan:

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Link to the plan

LONG-TERM CHANGES:

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

12 Comments

12 comments

  1. Diya, I really appreciate the connection you made between gratitude practice and elder care. Love the plan you published: seems easy to adopt!

    1. Thank you so much for your response! I’m glad you appreciate the connection made in my project!

  2. HI Diya!
    This plan seems very well thought out and I loved the visual week by week of the plan, it really helped me visualize your plan and see each step more easily. I also really liked that you not only talked about gratitude but that you also talked about how the sessions would build relationships between the volunteers and the elderly. I think that would be really great and positively impact a lot of peoples lives!

    1. Hey Onalise! Thank you so much for your response! I appreciate your response to my plan and your thoughts on how it positively impact others!

  3. Diya, I love how you’re trying to spread awareness and make a difference in elder care using your knowledge about the importance of gratitude

    1. Manya, thank you! I really appreciate your response! I hope that you were able to learn something from my project!

  4. Hii Diya,
    This was really well thought out and planned. I’m really glad your taking so much effort to improve people’s lives. This is really a great initiative and a great plan.

    1. Hey Zahi! I really appreciate your response! Thank you so much!

  5. Hi Diya Akka! I am so glad you have chosen such a unique problem that deals with the well being of our elderly, that some of us haven’t even thought about. Secondly, the weekly plan makes it way easier to see the final outcome of the project, which might seem overwhelming if it wasn’t broken down into steps. Lastly, in today’s world it is rare to see such acts of gratitude and I am sure it will be greatly appreciated by the elderly.

    1. Thank you so much Atharv! I really appreciate your response! I’m glad you find the plan to be useful and well-formatted to see the outcome of the problem. I agree that we need more implementation and acts of gratitude in today’s world!

  6. Hi Diya,
    I’m so proud of the insights and care you’ve demonstrated with this project. I can hear how meaningful you find your connections to the Elderly, and I REALLY BELIEVE that we can offer your project next year once we are out of such a serious lockdown. I’m here to help you realize this, and your ideas, methods and steps to success are so doable. Let’s do this!

    1. Thank you so much, Ms. Shari! I really appreciate your response and your kind words. I would love to implement my project and ideas into action next year once the pandemic settles. Thank you for your encouragement and support, I’m very grateful for it!

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