Senior Lifestyles

Sheltering in community: Local senior residences rise to the occasion during pandemic

Villa Siena photos courtesy of Monique Flores; BridgePoint photos courtesy of BridgePoint at Los Altos; Terraces photos courtesy of The Terraces at Los Altos
Sheltering but not alone are, above from left, Villa Siena residents Beverly Crudo and Margaret (Peg) Carroll, and BridgePoint at Los Altos resident Len Cook. Making the best of a bad situation are, below from left, The Terraces at Los Altos residents Lee Smith and Gary Lipe, and BridgePoint at Los Altos resident Pat Bennett.

A sense of isolation can be a problem for many seniors at the best of times. What happens when they are asked to shelter in place?

Although many seniors were likely getting out in the world less than their younger neighbors even before the shutdown, there was still a change in routine, a new lack of social activities, outings and visits. For many living in senior residences, the built-in sense of community seems to help – as does modern technology, allowing for video chats with family.

The Town Crier checked in with some local senior residences to see how residents are coping amid the pandemic.

Villa Siena

Villa Siena resident Beverly Crudo seemed to take the situation in stride, noting that they are allowed to eat in the cafeteria, but with strict social distancing.

“Only two people at a table, far apart. I’m OK as long as I can be with one of my buddies,” she said.

Residents are not allowed visitors at this time, but staff has come up with creative ways to celebrate special occasions.

“One lady’s birthday was today,” Crudo said. “Her son and daughter-in-law came and brought a huge cake and we all sang to her in the dining room – her son and daughter-in-law were outside the window. It was really nice.”

When things return to normal, Crudo’s looking forward to seeing her kids again – one lives in Sacramento and one in Arizona – as well as getting back to a weekly bridge game with friends who don’t live at Villa Siena.

Meanwhile, she doesn’t have any complaints.

“It’s nice here – it really is. I’m so impressed with the help here – the CNAs, the people who work in the dining room. … It’s not a big place – you get to know everybody, they’re like family. That is one of the things I like the most. I feel so blessed that I’m here.”

Fellow Villa Siena resident Margaret (Peg) Carroll said she remains “quite content.” Via her laptop, she is able to see and talk with her four children – three in the Bay Area and one a Jesuit priest in Rome – every day. She has six grandsons and two (soon three) great-grandchildren. She also keeps in touch with friends.

“I don’t know where the time goes,” she said.

While Carroll said she’s not lonely, she is looking forward to seeing her family in person again, as well as getting out for walks and outings and attending daily Mass, which was discontinued when the shelter-in-place orders began.

Carroll also had high praise for the Villa Siena staff.

“They’re very helpful here,” she said. “I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this place to anybody. They take good care of us.”

Carroll and Crudo both mentioned the coronavirus health precautions in place at the community, from daily temperature checks to constant cleaning and social distancing.

As a Mother’s Day treat, Villa Siena organized a drive-thru event, which allowed surprise visits with family members at a safe distance.

“Families and residents were grateful for this special opportunity and many said it would be a Mother’s Day to remember for years to come,” said Villa Siena’s development and marketing assistant Monique Flores.

BridgePoint at Los Altos

BridgePoint resident Pat Bennett is coping well during the lockdown thanks to her upbeat nature and the fact that her next-door neighbor is her mother; a large patio outside their rooms allows for frequent socially distanced visits. She also enjoys the companionship of her dog. She added that a recent change enables residents and visitors to sit socially distanced in communal courtyards.

Bennett wrote via email that her comfort with technology has been a big help during the shelter-in-place, as it was before.

“Technology keeps me in contact with friends and family, and it allows me to shop for specialty food I crave, as well as books, room necessities, etc. … I have ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and cannot speak,” she said. “For me, use of Skype or Zoom has been part of my life for a long time.”

  BridgePoint, she said, “has done a great job keeping residents safe.” The senior community has provided morale boosters such as a wine, cheese and music social in the hallway in front of residents’ rooms.

Bennett continues to keep active, with chair exercise to music, reading, communicating with family and friends, watching TV and exploring on her electric trike. Still, she worries about others who are less connected and mobile.

“Walking to the dining room … and connecting with other residents at mealtime was an important part of my mom’s life prior to sheltering in place,” she said. “Less connection and activity are the price for staying away from virus exposure, but it comes at a cost.”

When restrictions ease, getting her hair cut is at the top of Bennett’s list, as well as catching up on canceled doctor, dentist and vet appointments. She also looks forward to getting back to aerobics at the YMCA pool. Most of all, she anticipates face-to-face visits with friends and family.

  BridgePoint resident Len Cook said many aspects of his life remain virtually unchanged.

“I am on dialysis, so three times a week, I continue to go in for treatment,” he said, which allows him the opportunity “to see people and get out of my apartment.”

He also enjoys visits from his family living in Sunnyvale, now that outdoor visits are now allowed, with social distancing.

“I also keep up with family through phone calls,” he said. “My daughter calls me daily to find out how Dad is doing.”

If Cook has extra time on his hands, he puts it to good use.

“I love to read,” he said. “My next-door neighbor has been dropping off some wonderful books for me to enjoy. I also spend a lot of time on my computer.”

Cook has missed sharing meals with fellow residents and looks forward to getting back to the dining room. A haircut is high on his post-lockdown to-do list – “I’m looking like a llama!” he said with a laugh – and he can’t wait to get back to his favorite hobbies of fly and trout fishing.

He praised BridgePoint for its actions to keep residents safe.

“Right now, all our meals are delivered right to our apartments,” he said. “They’ve also had to cancel exercise classes, but the wellness team is still available to help residents. It’s really working beautifully.”

The Terraces at Los Altos

The Terraces at Los Altos resident Lee Smith was philosophical about the shelter-in-place changes, saying she didn’t mind the safety precautions and in-room meals.

“Strangely enough, it’s become more of a family situation,” she said. “(The staff) is caring for us more, bringing us treats.”

Smith said there are happy-hour carts one day a week, treats one day a week, strolling musicians and a mariachi band on Cinco de Mayo.

Despite her vision problems, Smith ventures out for daily walks around the campus. She misses the organized outings normally on the agenda, as well as getting out to dance at senior centers.

“I was one who didn’t stay home much,” she said.

Smith is looking forward to getting back to exercise class, rejoining the residence’s Sunshine Committee and eating in the dining room again – “always a social time,” she said.

Gary Lipe, also a resident of The Terraces at Los Altos, said life hasn’t changed much for him since the shelter-in-place orders began. He still gets out to the grocery store, the pharmacy and for walks. His daughter and granddaughter live in Mountain View, so he enjoys socially distanced visits with them on occasion.

The staff keeps them well informed on coronavirus-related news, Lipe said, including putting together a weekly video.

“Deborah Gonzales, executive director, and Cathy Jensen (director of residents services), really care about the well-being of residents,” he said. “Whatever they need to do, they get it done, focused on the residents.”

Although meals are delivered to residents’ doors while the dining room is closed, he enjoys the variety available from restaurants such as Chef Chu’s, Armadillo Willy’s and The Pasta Market, all offering curbside pickup. Still, Lipe enjoys the social aspect of the dining room and making friends with people from other parts of the complex.

“I’m not a serious person,” he said of his gregarious nature. “If I can get a smile out of a person every day, that’s all I want.”

Both Smith and Lipe were full of praise for the staff at The Terraces at Los Altos.

“It’s not only the executives that run the organization, but all the individual workers who work so hard and are so pleasant and make our day as good as possible,” Lipe said. “Sometimes I forget to say that. … They’re the crown on the entire organization – they make us happy we’re living here.”

“There’s no other place I’d rather be – it’s just wonderful to be here,” Smith added.

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