The spread of the coronavirus has been devastating for people from all walks of life, but its impact on seniors has been especially pronounced. From being at a higher risk of developing serious complications from COVID-19 to facing restrictions on visits from loved ones in facilities like nursing homes, where cases have surged, this is a tremendously difficult time for seniors.
For seniors with dementia and their caregivers, these new anxieties can be particularly daunting. Fortunately, the pandemic is not keeping them from vital resources like the Long Island Alzheimer’s and Dementia Center (LIAD), largely thanks to innovation and collaboration within the senior health care community.
Dana Castoria, LIAD’s engagement and marketing manager, discussed how the organization is making changes to continue to meet the unique needs of dementia patients, even while their doors are closed.
“We have collaborated with the Nassau County Office for the Aging, as well as Long Island residential facilities, home care agencies and marketing businesses to provide supplies, support and virtual programs to struggling seniors that are unable to leave their homes and receive critical resources,” Castoria said.
LIAD’s programs and staff typically provide dementia patients with the stimulation and consistency that they need to do well. Social distancing may keep their staff from carrying out these goals in person, but LIAD has embraced virtual tactics to continue their mission.
“We haven’t been able to maintain their regular schedules, but that’s why we completely changed our strategies to deliver the services that we do in our facility and bring it onto other platforms,” Castoria said. “We now host our stimulating activities, or at least what we can, over Facebook Live. We’ll do word games, as well as social activities where people can comment and interact with each other. We’ll also do chair exercises, which we do three times a day, led by our program assistants and program staff.”
One significant part of their new approach is daily check-ins with families.
“Our program staff has been calling each family daily, just to say hi, check in, give a reminder of what day it is, reminisce on things like other times they’ve had to stay inside or just events from a few weeks ago—conversations that really help,” Castoria said. “Additionally, our staff will check in with the caregiver. We have families that have expressed, ‘I need food, I literally cannot leave my home because not only am I senior, but I can’t leave my loved one home alone because I’m afraid they might wander,’ so we’ve been able to deliver food to them.”
Danielle Schwartzberg, LIAD’s director of special events and community outreach, described how they partnered with other Long Island organizations to help send these families gift baskets, including supplies, such as Ensure, water bottles, non-perishable foods and craft projects.
“The Village Green, which is an assisted living community on Long Island, reached out and they said that they would deliver whatever our families needed, so with three other organizations—Caring People Home Services, Constellation Health Services and Alvita Home Care—they put together gift baskets and actually drove them to each of the family’s houses that were in critical need with supplies,” Schwartzberg said.
Social distancing measures may be in place for a few months or a few years. Either way, LIAD is prepared to keep trying new ways to cater to their community’s needs, which Castoria praised. As a grassroots nonprofit organization, they have experience with adjusting to change.
“We have a staff that easily adapts and is incredibly innovative in what strategies they see as most beneficial for our families,” Castoria said. “Going need-by-need isn’t something unfamiliar to us. If there comes a time when they lift social distancing and allow us to be at least in a room of five or less people, maybe we’ll implement home visits and be able to change again.”
While LIAD can bring most of their activities to virtual platforms, their larger fundraising events must be postponed altogether for the time being. The LIAD Women’s Luncheon and Fashion Show, which was originally scheduled to take place on April 24, has been rescheduled to July 31. Likewise, their 26th annual Golf Classic has been moved from June 29 to September 14.