Life has changed drastically for senior citizens inside of nursing homes, but local facilities are trying to make sure social distancing does not mean total isolation.

Though they may look different, Transitions Healthcare in South Strabane Township continues to have activities for seniors to participate in, giving them a chance to socialize.

“It makes a huge difference,” said Marie Guarascio, the facility’s activities director. “We do hallway cart events.”

The residents at Transitions sit in their doorways each day while staff members push a cart down the hallway.

Each day, the cart has something different, such as root beer floats or ice cream.

“They’re sitting there eating ice cream, and they’re talking to their neighbor across the hall. Still keeping the six feet,” Guarascio said.

Staff will sometimes try to give the senior citizens a laugh by dressing like a clown or wearing an inflatable sumo wrestler outfit.

Though the worries about COVID-19 are always present, Guarascio hopes these daily events can keep their residents from dwelling on the virus too much.

So far, she said they’re taking to it well.

“A lot of the people now, they ask, ‘Are we still going to do all this stuff once we can go back in the dining room?’ So they’re enjoying it,” Guarascio said.

The same is true at Premier Health Center in Washington.

Tim Kimmel, the facility’s executive director, said staff has been able to keep seniors engaged while taking the necessary precautions to protect against the coronavirus.

“I have a robust activities department with one director and seven full time aides,” Kimmel said.

A favorite of the residents at Premier, Kimmel said, is noodle ball. The seniors sit in a circle, six feet apart, while batting a ball around with pool noodles.

While seniors in nursing homes are able to socialize with their fellow residents, they remain unable to physically see anyone from outside.

Kimmel said because of the restriction on visitors, Premier purchased iPads to allow residents to virtually meet with family.

“We also have wireless phones that residences can use to call their families. The iPads are really popular,” Kimmel said. “The corporate officials wanted to ensure we did everything possible to maintain connection with family members.”

Video calling is also available to the residents at Transitions, and Guarascio said it has been an emotional experience for residents who are still able to see their family, even if they are far apart.

“For a lot of people, this is all new to them. To see their loved one on a little iPad or a cell phone ... The smiles are unbelievable,” Guarascio said.

Though they have taken steps to allow their residents to have as much a sense of normalcy as possible, Kimmel said its easier for some than it is for others.

“We certainly focus on those who are having a difficult time not being able to see their loved ones as regularly as they were accustomed to before the COVID crisis. We pay special attention to those residents and help them maintain a more positive outlook,” Kimmel said. “A lot of our residents who are handling it well don’t hesitate to engage those who are feeling depressed or down, and try to uplift them.”

Among the “normal” activities the seniors are able to engage in, bingo may be the most popular.

Though at Premier, it’s now “hallway bingo,” and residents stay in their doorways and fill out their cards as the numbers are called.

“They love bingo. Anytime, anyplace, any method of delivery. They really enjoy bingo,” Kimmel said.

At Transitions, they instead have “leisure time bingo.”

Each resident is given a packet and five bingo cards and list of numbers, and are given an hour to see if any of their cards are a winner.

“They like the leisure time. They can do it as fast or as slow as they want,” Guarascio said.

While it is not the same, Guarascio thinks Transitions residents have handled the changes well.

“They’re still laughing, they’re still smiling,” she said. “It’s a different kind of fun. We’re very blessed to be able to do this for them.

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