Learning from COVID to improve assisted-living facilities

If I outlive my husband and have difficulty living independently, I want to move to an assisted-living facility.

I thrive in the company of others, and a socially isolated life would be lonely and depressing.

However, with an eye on COVID and social isolation, I’ve been thinking about features I would like to have available should I make the move in later years.

At the top of the list of considerations is the ability to keep myself healthy should some communal or personal health crisis occur. I’d love to see my facility have an infirmary where I could be cared for if I were too ill to be alone in my apartment but not ill enough to be hospitalized.

It’s my fervent hope that my facility would have taken all its learnings from the COVID crisis and put protocols in place to help ensure my safety and well-being. To that end, I would want personal protective equipment like disposable masks, gloves, antiseptic wipes and hand sanitizer available outside my apartment door in a cute, discreet cabinet.

I would like my room to have built-in technology on a remarkably simple remote control hooked up to a smart screen that would allow me to have access to Zoom, FaceTime with my loved ones, a telephone, intercom, room service and Netflix (or whatever the incarnation of streaming services looks like in the future).

One lesson we have learned from COVID is that we need to make technology universal and accessible, especially to increase connections and prevent social isolation.

I like the idea of a community Zoom that offers programming throughout the day for those who have difficulty leaving their room. Sometimes our minds continue to function well even as our bodies defy us, and if that were my situation I’d want to keep my mind challenged.

I’d like varied food and dining options, too. Maybe there could be a video-streaming dining group for individuals who can’t leave their rooms, providing conversation and camaraderie with other residents. I think of those seniors that spent months having three meals a day delivered to their room to eat in silence.

It would be great to have a pantry in the building that residents can order from, with either pickup or delivery to their room. Think of it like a hotel gift shop, a convenience that is available to any traveler that stays at a hotel. Why not one in residential living?

I think it would be important to have a mental health hotline staffed by outside social workers for anyone feeling sad, lonely, isolated or depressed.

Creating inviting and usable outdoor space would be especially important to me. I love to be in nature because, as they say, it “fills my cup.” Having some place to walk among trees, flowers and nature would be essential. Certainly, I would want more than a few benches or tables and chairs in a courtyard.

Since I plan to stay in Southern California, an outdoor visiting area would also be important.

It might be nice for the facility to offer kits that can be bought by friends or family and delivered to my door. A watercolor or container garden kit would provide me with something to do and let me enjoy my handiwork.

Our home should be our sanctuary.

We have learned much about our way of living during this past year. Just as office designs may change, I hope there will be an emphasis by residential living planners to consider what many seniors missed most of all during COVID.

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Andrea GallagherAndrea Gallagher

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