Local centres keeping seniors connected during latest COVID restrictions

WELLINGTON COUNTY – Through a variety of virtual programming, seniors’ centres in Wellington County are continuing to keep seniors connected during the latest COVID-19 restrictions.

Seniors’ Centre for Excellence program coordinator Helen Edwards said the centre, which offers various social programs, exercise opportunities and community events, is continuing to offer virtual programming. 

This includes Zoom sessions, which happen twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays. 

“Anyone is welcome to join, they just have to get in touch with us if they would like to be signed up,” Edwards explained. 

For those who aren’t connected through the internet, the centre also offers a telephone program, which is available on Wednesday and Thursday mornings. 

“It’s sort of like the old party line, where you can talk to more than one person at the same time,” Edwards noted. “And it’s been really great for bringing people together who don’t necessarily have access to the internet, because not everybody does.”

Edwards said it’s been almost two years since the centre has been able to consistently offer in-person programming. 

“It’s tough,” she said. “You want to keep people safe, but at the same time it’s just not the best for any of us not to be having those social connections, they’re just so important to our health.

“Research shows how damaging being isolated or loneliness is to our health and I think we all just may need to make that effort to make sure that we’re connecting with the older people in our lives, and checking in on our neighbors and seeing if they need anything,” Edwards explained. 

“When you’re isolated and you’re lonely, you’re less likely to be have the motivation to get outside and exercise,” she added. “And that’s a key to feeling good as well.”

Asked about the impacts isolation has had on older adults, Edwards said they’re likely the same as everyone else – they’re weary and feeling the pandemic fatigue.  

She’s also heard from some people that they’ve hardly spent any time with new great grandchildren, which she said can be really tough. 

“I think it’s important to feel part of the community and it’s easy to feel forgotten if you’re not connecting with people,” she explained. 

Edwards said there have been some positives to connecting virtually, like being able to have guests the centre would never have been able to have before the pandemic, which has included visiting the Alexander Graham Bell Museum in Nova Scotia virtually.

“I think just feeling connected with your community,” she explained. “It’s almost like the Zoom sessions (are) like its own little community, and anyone is welcome to join, doesn’t matter where they live.

“COVID has turned out to be more of a marathon than a sprint,” Edwards said. “And it’s been so much longer than I think anyone has had expected.

“And it’s really tough, mentally, to stay with the guidelines and recommendations and public health,” she added. “But the last thing that we want to do is to let down our guard now because we can see the finish line.”

For more information on the Seniors’ Centre for Excellence and services available, visit the Township of Mapleton’s website or call the centre at 519-638-1000.

Kathy Morgan, supervisor of senior services for Victoria Park Seniors Centre in Fergus, said the centre has also been doing virtual programming since early in the pandemic, which can be joined through a computer device or by phone.

“We do get some people that don’t have a computer that can still phone in and listen to a seminar presentation that we’re offering or join us for playing Bingo or social activity,” Morgan explained. 

The centre currently offers roughly 25 virtual programs a week, which Morgan said can range from fitness classes to social activities like Bingo, but she noted the fitness classes are by far the most popular. 

The classes can see anywhere from eight to 45 people registered. 

“It was a learning curve for absolutely everyone, us included staff instructors included, but now most people are doing very well,” Morgan explained. 

With most senior centres across the province having transitioned to offering virtual programming, Morgan said moving forward the centre will likely offer a sort of hybrid program model. 

“I can see us with some form of virtual programming in the long term because it’s definitely fills a need,” she explained. “And as long as there’s demand for it, we’ll continue.

“And this time of year too we find people are really liking not having to go out and clean their car off and shovel out first, they can just do it from the comfort of their live living room.

“Of course, nothing really replaces in-person contact, but this definitely helps for sure,” she added. 

“We do have a lot of seniors that do live alone, and this really helps with that social connection on a daily or weekly basis for them.”

Morgan said some activities the centre offers can’t be transferred into a virtual format, like playing cards and having coffee with someone, but is hopeful that once things open up the centre can bring in-person programming back.

“Hopefully soon once we can open up in person, we can bring those programs back again that the seniors are really missing.” 

She also noted the centre has split the winter session into two mini sessions to allow more opportunity for people to register. 

“So we are starting up again another session in February,” she said. 

“But people can certainly join if they did want to register for a yoga class that’s running right now and maybe there’s two or three weeks left they can still join.”

For more information, or for those looking to register for the centre’s virtual programming, visit the Township of Centre Wellington’s website or phone the centre at 519-846-9691 ext. 204. Members and non-members are welcome to take part.

Keeping connections in long-term care homes

With the latest Omicron variant, currently only essential caregivers are permitted for visits at all long-term care and retirement homes across the province.  

On behalf of the Wellington Terrace Long-Term Care Home, Wellington County communications manager Andrea Ravensdale said residents are continuing to receive some visitors to the home.  

“The current ministry directive does not allow for general visitors, but each resident may choose two essential caregivers who are allowed to continue to visit and provide support to the resident,” Ravensdale explained in an email statement. 

“There is acknowledgement of the importance of the ongoing support essential caregivers provide, to maintain these valuable connections.”

Ravensdale said Wellington Terrace is continuing to help residents stay connected through:

  • one-to-one and small group programs to ensure meaningful interactions and maintain positive connections; and
  • the home and essential caregivers support residents to stay connected to loved ones through technology such as Skype, Facetime and phone calls.

Caressant Care communications manager Stuart Oakley said when the homes have an outbreak declared people often hear that residents are being isolated in their rooms, but he noted “isolation doesn’t mean forgotten.”

Oakley said staff routinely visit residents and check to make sure they’re okay, and the homes activation staff arrange virtual and window visits for residents and their families.  

“They also engage with them through creative activities that allow social distancing but also to have some fun like hallway Bingo and other games,” he explained. 

Social workers are also on hand to spend time with residents and Caressant Care has some schools that do pen pal programs, set up by the activation staff, he added.   

“Hopefully when things settle down and we get past Omicron we can welcome general visitors back to our homes,” Oakley said.