Don’t Let Social Distancing Slow Your Seniors Down

Rene Swar, wellness director, Rose Villa

Rene Swar, wellness director, Rose Villa

With COVID-19 social distancing restrictions, many senior living facilities face the challenge of needing to find new ways to keep seniors active. Social distancing may mean that gyms and exercise areas and programs are off-limits. Physical activity is more important now than ever, both in terms of the mental stimulation it provides and the fact that it can help to reduce stress and keep residents healthy.

Rose Villa, a continuing care retirement community located in Portland, Oregon, recently faced the challenges of implementing social isolation. The facility’s creativity in restructuring and creating new activities is an excellent example of how facilities can successfully navigate these challenges while still providing residents with fun and physically engaging activities.

Focusing on Technology

When Rose Villa implemented social distancing for its residents, it faced some unique challenges. Rene Swar, Wellness Director, noted that Rose Villa’s wellness center and saline pool (complete with a lazy river and water slide) are some of the most appealing aspects of living at the community. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the facility also offered 33 fitness classes.

“One of our immediate goals was to shift our program to be accessible in an online format,” Swar explains. “A big challenge was pulling this all together while remote. It required residents and staff being open to trying something new, using technology many have never used before, and delving into a whole new world of training virtually.”

Facilities can absolutely still provide seniors with physical activities, but staff and program directors will need to work together to find innovative solutions that adhere to social distancing guidelines.

Redesigning Activity Programs

To deliver residents plenty of fitness opportunities while maintaining social distancing, staff got creative and often relied on technology to keep residents connected during these programs. The community’s restructured social distancing fitness opportunities now include a full roster of activities to keep residents connected and active:

  • Residents can participate in twice daily live Zoom video exercise classes, such as stretching, upper and lower body workouts, and low impact aerobics.
  • The facility shares ideas for activities residents can do while social distancing, such as local hiking areas, dog parks, other live exercise class opportunities, and sites for brain games.
  • Residents can enjoy a three-quarter-mile fitness challenge course that was set up around campus.
  • Additional Zoom classes, such as meditation with singing bowls, give seniors additional activities.
  • Staff make daily wellbeing calls to our residents to see if they are getting all their needs met. These calls concentrate most on those residents who might be feeling isolated at this time.
  • Residents can mark off activities that they’ve done during the week on “Stay Active” Bingo cards. This tool also helps to make residents aware of the various opportunities that are offered.
  • Rose Villa is also working with the local Portland Community Exercise Science program to connect student trainers with residents. These trainers are delving into a whole new world of training clients virtually.

Few Rose Villa residents had their own at-home fitness equipment, but that obstacle was quickly overcome. “Residents rolled up their sleeves and got creative, using soup cans or water bottles for weights and rugs for yoga mats. Everyone is learning how to move around their personal spaces in a different way,” explains Swar.

Rose Villa also welcomes residents’ feedback. “Residents regularly share ideas about keeping fit and connected with each other and staff. They also share feedback about our daily wellness classes,” notes Swar.

Physical Activities and Social Distancing

With some creativity, facilities can still offer residents physical activities. Some ideas include:

  • Video exercise classes
  • Yoga or meditation apps
  • Telemedicine conferences with physical therapists or trainers
  • Hallway exercise classes where residents remain in the doorways of their rooms
  • Group walks through parking lots, with social distancing in place

While these activities won’t entirely replace previous programs, they can help to keep seniors active while social distancing precautions are in place.


Topics: Activities , Departments , Featured Articles , Resident Care