What do creative seniors do during a Pandemic?

 05/03/2020 | 12:39 PM 
Mary Jo Kluth

Mary Jo Kluth

There has been much focus, especially now, regarding how to keep our aging population safe from the COVID virus.  We, in the senior housing industry have been given strict policy, direction, equipment and ways to accommodate the safety of our residents. But, what we “young-uns” forget is that this population has weathered many storms.  Even though they have never walked through this particular experience they certainly understand when change is needed and they seem to have a calm about them, almost as if they know they are in it for the long haul and would do best to keep from stressing over what is yet to come or possibly never to come.

RiverPointe Senior Community has been in Littleton for over 32 years.  We’ve  had multiple generations of families come to call RiverPointe home.  The lifestyle here is one of congregate meals, fitness classes, life-long learning opportunities, art, music and the like.  Without these, well…what are we? Adult children (who have a parent here) have been so kind. They are always offering to help residents who may not have family nearby to bring groceries and provisions.   But with all the help from the staff at RiverPointe and the adult children, what we find instead is our residents looking for ways to help others themselves!

What I found is that although the social aspect of life has been put on hold, our residents have not put their lives on hold.  It’s almost as though the disappearance of their fully scheduled calendar has opened up space for doing what needs to be done in this particular crisis.  This is where you realize that our seniors know things…they know that there are needs in the community at large not just RiverPointe. They don’t require a trademark, company, an app or a patent to provide much needed supplies for not only physical well-being but also emotional well-being. 

 Mary Jo Kluth, one of our avid quilters instantly went into “mask-making-mode”. After reading an article in the Washington post that praised the material used by most quilters as second best, next to the coveted N95, Mary Jo got busy.  She had beautiful Batik tight-weaved cotton that was brought to her from Bali back in the 90’s. If you know any quilters, you know that they throw no material away. They know there will someday be a use for that particular material and the Bali Batik is no exception. Mary Jo knew she had enough material, but elastic is not something quilters keep on hand.  Amazon was out of elastic (it’s funny what becomes a necessity in a Pandemic) but luckily, she found elastic in Tennessee and California. E-bay was happy to deliver! RiverPointe staff, adult children of residents, homecare staff and others now don these coveted, colorful fashion statements that double as protection! Mary Jo has supplied over 140 masks to date. Who knows, maybe we will continue to wear them well beyond the need and well into the future.

Our residents also know that mental health is as important as our physical health.  Who among us hasn’t felt the tug of, depression, isolation and loneliness in this “stay at home” order?    Shiloh House is an organization that works with at-risk youth and families to offer nurturing, therapeutic and educational services to empower youth and families who are fighting to overcome the impact of neglect, abuse and trauma. They have welcomed a partnership with our own RiverPointe seniors. An effort needed now more than ever, has been put in place to ensure that the needs of the Shiloh House youth are being met.  They are graciously working with RiverPointe residents and staff who have put together art kits with a personal touch.  The impact of these individualized art kits has a huge impact on the Shiloh youth. One such youth participant exclaimed, “I get to keep it?!”  During time of crisis, having an artistic outlet is not only therapeutic but fun!  Many of the Shiloh youth have suffered abuse and neglect and knowing people care about them, helps them heal.  For more information visit www.shilohhouse.org

Another program that has become important to the RiverPointe community as they continue to navigate the ever changing COVID 19 experience, is a pen-pal program to connect with other seniors in isolation. The sharing of letters has expanded outside of Colorado to Louisiana and Ohio, just for starters. There is also a need for children to enjoy writing to a pen-pal, and who says their pen pal needs to be their age. Our residents will begin writing to children in other areas of the US.  Our residents and seniors everywhere are interesting and inspiring people. They are our history, our teachers, and our wisdom keepers.  Each of us knows a senior who has impacted our lives for the better. Why not allow them the opportunity to do what they do best, share their wisdom, history and experiences? 

 And for some residents this “unscheduled” break in their day-to-day lives opens the door to learning technology.  Tablets have been donated by (Wish of a Lifetime) organization. The RiverPointe staff will spend time with current residents teaching them how to use their new tablets to connect with family and friends in hopes of diminishing at least some of the sense of isolation.

(Wish of a Lifetime), for the past twelve years, has been granting wishes to the most isolated seniors and has never wavered from this mission. Today, their commitment is even stronger, knowing there are more seniors suffering the effects of isolation than ever before. They believe that now is the time to be an even louder advocate for our aging population. (Wish of a Lifetime) is safely delivering thousands of dollars’ worth of goods for things like groceries, paper products, arts and crafts, books, puzzles, movies, etc.  For more information contact https://wishofalifetime.org. Given the uncertainty of the situation (Wish of a Lifetime) knows it’s a marathon and not a sprint and every little bit helps.

No matter how long this Pandemic tries to disrupt our lives, our residents will continue to look for ways to stay active, vibrant and useful.  My friends and neighbors ask me if our residents are going stir crazy?  My response is, not at all…they appreciate every minute of their life and seem focused on making the most out of it…They stay grounded and centered in a world that is constantly shifting. After all; they’ve been adjusting to a shifting world for years!