Julie Verriest
Julie Verriest holding a music session. (Photo: JVS Human Services)

Social services stay connected to seniors with dementia during COVID-19. 

Prior to the spread of COVID-19 and the subsequent statewide stayathome order, seniors with dementia in Metro Detroit received inperson services through a partnership between JVS Human Services and Jewish Senior Life. Those programs focused on interacting with others and making face-to-face connections: crucial components to delivering high quality of life.  

Now, Julie Verriest, the manager of senior adult services at JVS Human Services and the supervisor of the Dorothy and Peter Brown Jewish community adult day program at Jewish Senior Life, has moved programming online to continue to give her seniors some stability and therapeutic services.  

“Socialization and connection with other people I think is really the most important thing for people with dementia, Verriest said 

In person, the services included handson activities like exercise, pet therapy and community outings. Online, these programs have been altered slightly in order to make the sessions successful. For music sessions, Verriest plays the guitar over Zoom as participants clap and sing along. Exercise sessions are also led by Verriest, with the participants giving input in order to keep them engaged. Everything is adaptable so that everyone can take part in their own way.  

People living with dementia can have visual and auditory processing issues, which pose a potential challenge when it comes to holding sessions virtually. To help with these issues, Verriest makes sure to leave extra time when talking to participants, which she says helps them stay responsive.  

“The real magic is that they interact with each other much like they do on site,” Verriest said. They help each other out, like someone who is in the earlier stage of dementia might help someone who’s a little later in the dementia journey to answer a question.”

Although some seniors had a little trouble with adjusting to the technology, there are many resources to help them along the way. Many call grandkids over FaceTime to help them set up Zoom, or have a caregiving partner assist them in setting up the meeting.  

These online sessions provide important interactions for participants, but are also beneficial for caregiving partnersVerriest said. Some are working from home, teaching from home and now also providing full time care for family members. Zoom sessions provide respite so that caregiving partners are able to complete other tasks.  

According to Verriest, another way that caregiving partners can benefit is incorporating things into their day with their loved one that they enjoy, like going on walks or participating in the online sessions together, which about half of the participant’s caregiving partners do 

This online program also provides support services and sessions specifically for caregiving partners as the alternative to in person support. The program’s social worker now spends all of her time calling families and checking in to see how they are doing. 

Sam McKnight has been taking his wife Jackie to participate in the in-person services at the Brown Center for several years now, and the fact that there are services available online is helpful to both of them, McKnight said. Jackie particularly enjoys the music, poetry and bingo that have taken place virtually.  

Like many participants and their caregiving partners, the relationship with the staff is important to both Jackie and Sam, and he would like to highlight the work of the staff involved in the program. 

Sam said he’s been especially pleased with “the familiarity of it all and the ability to connect, even though it’s a little more difficult.

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