If you’ve seen photos on Facebook or in newsletters, you’ve noticed that most of our small group activities take place in the dining room, where we can practice social distancing. In smaller spaces, as when we need the TV for a live or recorded concert, seating is limited and all wear masks.
Activities staff also does one-to-one visits with those who don’t enjoy group activities. This one-to-one time can include facilitating a Facetime call with a family member, reading aloud, or simply chatting. Ideas from family members are always welcome for activities your loved one might enjoy, in either a group or individual setting.
Live musical performances were possible in the fall, because we set up the performer outside and opened windows so residents could see and hear from inside the building. We may try this for a night of Christmas caroling later in December, but mostly we’ve moved to using Zoom to offer our residents live music.
By early next year, we’ll have our own Activities space with kitchenette, etc. We’re looking forward very much to having dedicated space for food-tastings, craft and wood-working projects, and more.
“Holidays at the house”
Obviously this year is like no other! Our first bit of advice is to kind to yourself. Realistic expectations are important. We all know this, but it’s worth naming the fact that holidays stir up all kinds of emotions and bring back all kinds of memories…some that bring us joy and others that don’t. Plus, we all tend to drink and eat more than usual. Add a pandemic into the mix and this holiday season will have some tough moments! Important first steps are to let go of any guilt you may feel for not making the holidays perfect (or even normal), and to look for new ways to adapt and enjoy beloved holiday traditions.
Here at the house, we’re being creative with holiday programming. For example, we’re working on “scenic rides” to take in the wonderful Sandwich “Giants,” which are large metal sculptures lit up with holiday lights. You can expect to see photos of gingerbread houses and other seasonal crafts during December. And we’re queuing up the Christmas movies!
We always give little gifts to the residents and will do so again at the annual House Holiday Party. We also encourage them to give to others. We’ve found one of the most important ways to support older adults is to help them recognize the ways they continue to contribute to the world. Stay tuned for more details on upcoming projects.
Over both Thanksgiving and Christmas, we’ve added slots for family visits here at the House on our Sign-Up Genius website. 4 pm visits have been added on Thanksgiving and each day on either side of the holiday, with the same plan for Christmas Day.
Staying in touch
Your family member may already have an iPad or Android tablet; if not, it might make a wonderful gift this year. Tablets are great for video chats over FaceTime and also for playing games that keep you connected. For example, many people enjoy “Words with Friends,” which is like a Scrabble game played across the miles and at your own pace.
Zoom and Skype
Zoom and Skype are great tools for bringing families together. They’re free and simply require internet and some kind of device: a desktop or laptop computer, tablet, or even a phone. Decatur House has an iPad that residents can borrow when it’s not already in use; Activities can assist with scheduling Zoom or Skype visits and helping with the tech aspects.
Do you know Alexa? “She’s” been around for a while. Especially for those who live alone, having Alexa can help you feel connected with the outside world. In addition to answering questions like “what’s the weather today?” or “how many movies did Elvis make?”, Alexa performs many other useful functions, too. These include playing radio stations or individual songs (if available), telling “Dad jokes,” and playing simple games.
Devices made specifically for video chatting
These devices made for video chats are plugged in, so there’s no need to worry about them not being charged when needed (unlike tablets). Other functions include sharing photos from your phone directly to the resident’s room. While technology can seem daunting, it’s also worthwhile learning, as remote connections are with us for months to come due to the pandemic. These products aren’t as complicated as it might seem – ask your child or grandchild for help! Tech support from the manufacturer is also very responsive on these devices.
- Has Alexa commands built in for voice commands
- Needs resident to have a Facebook account – (which is easy to set up and then not use FB)
- Works with Facebook Messenger – Facebook Messenger is free
- Can easily disable video and audio functions in the residents’ rooms for privacy as needed
Amazon’s Alexa-powered Echo Show—Have to pay for it (same general price)
There are several Echo Show options – 10 inch screen might work best
You can each have an Alexa Echo Show OR just have one in the resident’s room and use the app on your smartphone. Alexa Show can be set up from a smartphone app to give it access to your contacts list. After that you will be able to make calls by saying “Alexa, call Grandma.”
You can provide your resident with a list of things to say, and Amazon will email you suggestions on a regular basis. Alexa can read books and stories, including books from an Amazon Audible account. If you have an Amazon Prime account, an Alexa Show can play Amazon Prime videos.
One of the best ways to be in touch over the holidays – and any time for that matter – is simply old-fashioned letter writing. Even for those who email regularly, there’s just something special about getting a hand-written card, letter, or postcard in the mail. We’re happy to read them aloud to those with visual impairments. Christmas cards make wonderful decorations for residents’ apartments and lift spirits for all who see them.
Thank you for letting us be family to your loved ones, all the time and especially at the holidays.
—Decatur House Community Life Director Cathy Ode