Social Distancing Does Not Mean Social Isolation

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In the United States, the creation of state of the art senior living communities has increased and evolved to provide for the needs of our elders. According to a research conducted by Henry Lodge (former professor at Columbia University Medical Center), 70% of how we age is determined by four lifestyle choices: exercise, connection, nutrition, and goals.

Not long ago, the Assisted Living Facilities (ALF) architectural and interior design trends were focused on the accessibility of the senior community to arts and culture, proximity to grocery and retail stores, proximity to multiple transportation options, and smart designs for dense suburban and urban locations. The space plan of these facilities had one goal in mind, inclusion. Supporting residents to maintain a meaningful social connection with their loved ones and the community was imperative to fulfill one of the four lifestyle choices defined by Henry Lodge.

But what happens now? This past couple of months, connection and the way we interact with our elders, especially those in senior living communities, has been altered from what we know. The pandemic has forced us to think outside the box to continue with our activities and to find ways to interact. Practicing social and physical distancing has become a necessity during this time. However, we need to remember that social distancing does not mean social isolation.

While Interior Designers implement comfortable social barriers that are approachable and non-distracting, there are ways to maintain safe interactions with residents of assisted living facilities. Phone and video calls are among the most popular. Calling a few times a day can minimize the perception of social isolation. Calls with simple conversations sharing stories or telling jokes will foster that social connection. Sending letters or cards is also an excellent way to keep interaction with our elders. Share how much you care for them and that you are thinking of them. Don’t limit yourself, try sending pictures, grandchild’s art, or a care package specially curated for them. Try participating together in virtual concerts or classes of mutual interest. This interaction promotes positivity and a sense of inclusion. It will also become a shared experience that will give you something to talk about later. Media is an exceptional way to entertain, but don’t forget the classic entertainments. Create your own book club. Select a book and then discuss its content over the phone or a video call. 

Residents of retirement communities make an independent choice to join a village for a myriad of reasons. Most commonly, to maximize their lifestyle opportunities. This pandemic has greatly impacted those opportunities and created a new “normal” from which we are still learning. As Interior Designers, we have a responsibility that we don’t take lightly which is maintaining the safety and wellbeing of the users of a space. Besides promoting remote interactions, incorporating physical distance measures during the space planning process, and selecting more antimicrobial treated materials will be just a few ways to ensure ALF occupants have a safe environment to reside.

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