June 15, 2020

Virtual visits continue to make a world of difference

Photo courtesy of Kristina McGowan

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Calgary Health Foundation donors have been supporting many areas that are impacting the lives of people in our community. Support for our vulnerable populations has been an important part of that.

Thanks to donors, the virtual visits at Carewest sites and within the hospital are possible. During this time of isolation and physical distancing, enabling virtual visits with loved ones has become more important than ever as we diligently maintain reduced visitation protocols. Not only does this technology support visiting with loved ones, it also allows residents to access the recreation and leisure therapies that improve overall well-being and quality of life. Kristina McGowan, Recreation Therapist at Carewest Fanning Centre shares the impact she has seen on residents.

How do you use technology to enhance residents’ quality of life and connection through the pandemic?

Currently, we’re using our iPads to facilitate video calls through the zoom app, where we connect our residents virtually with their loved ones.

We also have the ability to connect our residents virtually to our current Recreation Therapy and Leisure programs. Due to physical distancing guidelines, we’re limited to how many residents can be in our programs at one time, and Carewest has further taken the precautionary measure of avoiding exposure within the building by not mixing residents from other areas.

By merging our current programs with modern technology we can have residents take part virtually in programs in real-time. Our goals in long-term care are always to enhance the quality of life of our residents. During the pandemic, we have been focusing on reducing anxiety, stress, depression and decreasing social isolation within our community. We also want to provide our residents an opportunity to maintain their cognitive and physical fitness, as well as opportunities for fun and social inclusion. These are just some of the many goals we strive for, and are more important and challenging than ever. Having access to this technology has proven to be extremely valuable to maintain their quality of life.

How were you using them before?

Prior to the pandemic, we would normally borrow an iPad from our music therapist, and then use it in a variety of ways to enhance the quality of life for our residents. iPads are a great resource and we’ve incorporated them into our programming for functional, psychosocial and intellectual stimulation. In other words, we can use the device as a tool to educate, provide an opportunity for socialization, discussion, increased self-confidence and even to promote hand-eye coordination. Our music therapist also uses the iPads to encourage self-expression (amongst other things) and it is incredible to see what the residents come up with.

Why is connecting with loved ones virtually so important to the residents’ mental health and quality of life?

It’s important because humans are social animals and we crave connection!

On-line visits can never take the place of in-person visits, but the ability to have video chats, where you can see who you’re talking to, see their reactions, and have a conversation can still maintain your emotional connection. The world has changed, but keeping in contact with family and loved ones allows them to support our residents, easing loneliness and the feeling of isolation. I’ve seen residents and family touching hands through the screen, having virtual contact even though they can’t have physical contact. This has even allowed our residents to see a part of their family and loved one’s lives that they normally don’t see – their pets, their houses, and even family members that can’t visit physically because they live far away.

They get a deeper connection with the world on the other side of the screen, the world that their loved ones live in. It’s very humbling to watch family members interact not only with our residents, but with each other in that virtual space. Our residents get a sense of family, a sense of belonging, and definitely feel more supported in their isolation. As sad as they are to say goodbye sometimes, you can see how excited they are for their next chance to chat! I always connect with our residents after they finish a call. They always have a smile on their face, and I can feel their spirits lifted.
The video calls were implemented because of the pandemic, but we’re definitely going to continue using this technology afterwards, because of the positive impacts that we’re seeing.

I’ve seen residents and family touching hands through the screen, having virtual contact even though they can’t have physical contact. This has even allowed our residents to see a part of their family and loved one’s lives that they normally don’t see – their pets, their houses, andeven family members that can’t visit physically because they live far away.

How does technology bridge the gap from social distancing and restricted visitations in long-term care settings?

Technology allows us to connect, even at a distance, on an emotional level. Even though we can’t be physically present with each other, we can still see each other, and interact in the same way that we would if we were visiting in person. Regardless of where we are, and how far away we feel, when we can see each other, and talk to each other in real-time, we can keep that psychosocial connection alive and well with our family and loved ones. In my opinion, it’s all a matter of perspective!

Thank you for supplying us with the tools that we need to connect our residents with their families. Such a simple gesture has allowed our residents and their families to stay connected emotionally while creating a whole new world of virtual love, support and hope. Thank you again for your donation it truly has made a difference in the lives of our residents.

To learn more about how you can help with our COVID-19 Response Fund, visit our COVID-19 Response & Recovery Fund page.

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