The Brookhouse Home for Women is fortunate to have a staff devoted to keeping residents healthy, happy and engaged. For such a welcoming and active home, the past five months have been the most challenging for both our residents and staff.
Brookhouse’s Director of Nursing Carol Gawrys and our Activities Director Marsha DiCesare shared what they have been working on since March, and everything they do has helped to uplift the entire Brookhouse Home community.
From Isolation to New Innovations
Carol Gawrys shared that in March the Governor of Massachusetts began to shut things down statewide and all communal activities including dining at the Brookhouse Home were halted. The women would have to stay inside their rooms with an anticipated level of isolation and loneliness that had to be addressed. Carol is also a professor in nursing at Salem State University where a focus of study is developing programs that address and alleviate the effect of isolation on seniors. “I believe that isolation and loneliness is one of the biggest problems with older adults and it can result in very poor health outcomes. This component has been much harder than people know,” Carol said. “The women were feeling particularly saddened at this time, were not able to see family, or even get their hair done.” For anyone who has an elderly woman in their life, getting ones hair done each week is a very important ritual that was now prohibited.
Book Club, Dance and Sharing and Caring groups
Carol notes that the ladies missed many things including their daily book club. With such an active book club, the ladies were anxious to return to one of their favorite rituals and were so pleased to see the book club return in April. Additionally, the return of exercise groups – while remaining six feet apart and wearing a mask – came back and has been great for morale.
Further, Carol and Marsha, along with Administrator Judy Kane, were listening to the women share their feelings about the pandemic and their frustration with the situation.
“We started a Sharing and Caring group so the woman could verbalize how they were feeling during this time,” Carol said. Marsha has been facilitating the groups. “Being able to share their experiences with other residents so they know they’re not alone in the way they feel was very important,” Marsha said. “It’s worked out nicely.” As it turns out, one of the things that everyone learned about each other is that they all wanted to dance. “The ladies absolutely love to dance. The biggest hit is that we now have Dancercize! We have a large cross section of ages participating. Some ladies in their mid 90s dance while holding their walkers,” Marsha said. “It just goes to show that it doesn’t matter what age you are, if you love to dance you will dance as long as you’re able!”
Along with dancing, the residents are involved with Neurobics, which are some quizzes and games designed to keep the mind active. “Neurobics has been fun,” Marsha said. “Exercises are designed to create new neural pathways in the brain by using the senses in unconventional ways. We’ve drawn with our non-dominant hand, and engaged in certain types of visual puzzles, riddles etc.”
Computer Calls and Gardening Increases
Additionally, the Brookhouse Home has purchased an additional computer and tablet for residents to enable doctors to set up a telemedicine appointment with their patient. The extra computer and tablet is also used for those residents who may have a ZOOM meeting with family or friends with a little technical help from staff.
With the warmer weather, the residents are also now able to have thirty -minute visits outside with families, all wearing masks and keeping six feet apart, and the staff has worked closely with families to schedule and coordinate visits so that two people at a time are with a family member. Various days and times are made available to accommodate family schedules.
Partnering with families and friends is another important piece of developing our community. “We want to know more about their loved ones,” Carol said.
Additionally, Julia Coffin, Brookhouse Building and Grounds Director Home has built a raised vegetable garden. The vegetable garden has not only become something of interest to those who love the growing season, but it has become a big part of Chef Dennis Cox’s menu and he uses the fresh ingredients from the garden as often as he can in his meal preparation.
There is nothing like being outside, especially at the Brookhouse Home. We are blessed with a gorgeous lawn, trees and gardens. “Although tree hugging was Judy’s idea, we’ve expanded to exploring and learning what different plants we have in our garden,” Marsha said.
There are many innovative and thoughtful ways that the staff has tried to return everyone’s lives to normal and by being able to get out and about in the garden and lawn, it has clearly been one of the best places to spend our time during this pandemic. Many afternoons outside in the garden, Marsha and the staff serve up iced coffee while music is played on the radio.
Techniques for Well-Being and Improved Health
“We are working on new masks for the ladies, too, as we are trying to make them more comfortable to wear in the hot weather,” Carol said.
“Ideally, we will continue to focus more on wellness techniques that will ultimately improve health and well being,” Carol said. “One thing I stress to our residents is that we have successfully developed a community here. We don’t all have to be best friends but we are a community.”
Administrator Judy Kane adds “although these are very challenging times, we are so thankful for this caring community. I remind the ladies when they may be feeling down, none of us are alone, and we are family here.”
The Brookhouse Home has been a beacon of hope and comfort for senior women since 1861. We will get through this – together!