The pandemic has taken a toll of isolation on people living in long-term care in order to keep them safe. Many were not able to see loved ones because of visitor restrictions necessary to help keep everyone safe. Dining alone became the norm, group activities such as afternoon tea, happy hours and concerts were paused, and even bus outings were cancelled, furthering a sense of community isolation and loneliness for some residents.
Seniors living in long-term care, as well as their caregivers, were among the first to receive their COVID-19 vaccinations. This has provided a renewed sense of hope for many residents who are eagerly participating in pandemic-safe activities including scenic bus tours, an outing that is helping residents feel connected to nature and establish a sense of connection to their community.
Dinah Higley, Director of Recreation at Parkwood Court in Victoria, said that the bus outings contribute to their residents’ health and wellness by enabling them to get out and reminisce.
“We drive through their old neighbourhoods in Cadboro Bay, Uplands and Esquimalt and they point out their old homes and share fond memories. We talk about the pandemic and how the outside world has been affected as they view people with masks on their faces, cued up outside of grocery stores and shops. The outings are allowing them to feel engaged and more in touch with the community.”
Annette, a resident at Parkwood Court who was on the first bus trip to leave Parkwood last week said, “It was wonderful to get outside and see all of the flowers and spring blossoms on the trees. It feels great to enjoy these trips again. I can’t wait until the next one!”
The bus outings are mostly scenic in nature, but they are able to stop in parks so residents can leave the bus to enjoy the easy walking trails. COVID protocols are strictly adhered to however, such as sanitizing all touch points prior to boarding, mask wearing, appropriate spacing between passengers, and proper hand hygiene.
Coral Coupland, Recreation Therapist at Cumberland Lodge, reported that they resumed their scenic bus outings as soon as Island Health announced they could be reinstated.
“We took our residents to Union Bay last Monday. They hadn’t been off site for 15 months and they were so excited and joyful. Some of them didn’t remember where they went an hour after returning, but they were still glowing, knowing they had participated in something special.”
Any resident can join the outings as the buses are equipped with a wheelchair lift system. At Cumberland Lodge, they often drive out to the country to see bison and lambs grazing in the fields, or they might drive to the ocean to look for sea lions.
“They love doing things they’ve done in the past”, said Coupland. “It makes them feel connected to their past life and immensely helps their emotional and mental health.”
At Cairnsmore Place in Duncan, residents were ecstatic as they returned from their first bus outing, which was around the Shawnigan Lake area.
“They have been held up for such a long time”, said Cairnsmore Place Activities Coordinator, Erinn Dawe. “We take it for granted that we can go to work or shop and have interactions with colleagues, friends and family, even if at a distance outdoors. Our residents have been restricted to their homes since the pandemic began. They can see that it’s spring and beautiful outside so they were so happy to be able to leave the facility. The first outing was epic and the residents were so jubilant that they were cheering when they returned. It was a heart-wrenching moment.”
Roy, who is one of the Cairnsmore Place residents remarked, “The first time we went out it was heaven, I absolutely loved it! I wish I could go out everyday for a ride, but I can’t be greedy. Next, I am looking forward to going out for a meal on the bus”.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed life as we know it, and it is difficult to determine what the new normal will look like. However, for seniors who have been isolated for so long, the bus outings are a meaningful step towards a return to normal and are having a huge impact on seniors living in long-term care across Vancouver Island.