Dan and Kristie have been married for as long as anyone can remember, and they’ve called West Seattle home for decades. When Kristie was diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia, Dan moved her into Quail Park of West Seattle so she could stay in their neighborhood and get the specialized care she needed. He walked over to visit every day; sometimes many times a day. Dan would take Kristie out to their favorite restaurants and coffee shops and still enjoy (this new) life together. Then, one day, Covid-19 came to town, and all that would change.
Quail Park of West Seattle opened two years ago with a new approach to memory care. Innovative practices like iN2L, Eversound, Eldergrow, and memory-focused virtual-reality programs have revolutionized caring for those living with dementia and cognitive decline. However, no one was truly prepared for the sudden changes necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Memory care residents can be severely affected by changes to their daily routines. For Kristie, not seeing Dan several times a day, every day was devastating. Almost more devastated, was Dan. While he had enlisted Quail Park to do the heavy lifting of day-to-day care, he was still extremely involved in Kristie’s daily life. What to do now?
Dan and Kristie are not alone in trying to navigate this new normal. Some families have recently moved their loved ones to Quail Park because of changes due to the pandemic. To protect residents, visitors are not currently allowed in the community, so these families have not been able to visit or even see their loved one’s new environment, which causes tremendous emotional strain.
Quail Park of West Seattle has enlisted the help of Betsy Zuber to help families and residents stay connected and adjust. Zuber is a licensed mental health counselor with over 26 years of experience in helping older adults and their families. Twice monthly, Quail Park hosts an extremely popular 90-minute family support group with Zuber on ZOOM.
The ZOOM sessions open with a quick update from the West Seattle Quail Park management team and Living Care Lifestyles corporate officers. These updates provide families with a high-level overview of all that is being done to protect their loved ones and help them to continue to thrive during the pandemic. Families are also appraised of all the various options for communicating safely with loved ones such as: iN2L, a web-based platform designed to connect and stimulate seniors; SKYPE; WhatsApp; and FaceTime. And of course, there’s always good old-fashioned phone calls and the—now-iconic—window visits.
Zuber then facilitates a discussion with the families. Current hot topics are: “How do I communicate to my loved one concerning the pandemic?” “How do I handle my own depression and ambiguous loss?” “Is my loved one declining and is it because of isolation?”
One family member, Joanne, who recently moved her mom to Quail Park, said that hearing from other members of the group has been invaluable since she has not been able to visit in the community personally. “To hear from others how wonderful the care team is, and how special the environment is, has taken the place of me being able to visit in person and reassured me that I made the right decision!” she says. One-on-one sessions with Zuber are also available for families who are struggling the most.
Quail Park plans to continue the group sessions for the foreseeable future. According to the Community Relations Director, Ed Taylor, “I wasn’t entirely sure how the group sessions would work and if anyone would attend. I knew Betsy Zuber was a pro, but the topics can be so sensitive and emotional and of course all of this would be done over the computer. I was pleasantly surprised at that first ZOOM meeting that almost half of our family members joined. I had goosebumps the entire 90 minutes! It was incredible to sit and look at all those wonderful faces and to see smiles and hear laughter, and tears, and see the sharing of advice and hear the relief and comfort that was happening on the screen – just amazing!”
For now, Dan and Kristie have replaced their handholding with screen-sharing. Whether it is via daily FaceTime visits, or through our courtyard windows, they are practicing physical distancing but not emotional or social distancing. They are adjusting, just like the rest of us.