The Current

Trumpets, window visits and virtual cards: How families are connecting with loved ones in nursing homes

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to isolate older Canadians in care homes from their family members, staff and loved ones across the country are finding ways to keep them connected.

Sam Monckton played some of her father's favourite tunes on trumpet from outside his senior's home window

Trumpeter Sam Monckton played for her father, a resident at Haro Park Centre in Vancouver, from outside his window. He's currently on lockdown in the senior's home battling COVID-19. (Sam Monckton/Facebook)

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For better or worse, Sam Monckton's father loved when she played Blue Moon on the trumpet.

"I used to play it when I was in high school all the time, much to his joy and irritation, depending on if I was in the house," she told The Current.

So, she grabbed her trumpet and headed to her father's care home in Vancouver.

From outside his window, she played that tune, and By the Light of the Silvery Moon, a song the pair sang when Monckton was a child.

In an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 among vulnerable populations, nursing and seniors' homes across the country have barred visitors. That's left family members and friends feeling disconnected from their loved ones in care.

Monckton's father is a resident at Haro Park Centre in Vancouver. He's battling COVID-19 alongside dozens of other residents. 

Monckton says that playing for her father was a bright spot in an otherwise trying time.

"It was pretty amazing to be playing outside of his home because it not only gave him some joy, but it was clearly giving others joy," the trumpeter said.

"They were coming to their balconies and windows waving. I wasn't taking any requests, but they were still enjoying the music anyway."

Monckton has been separated from her father, who is blind, for weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic. Not seeing him, she says, "is short of just a little bit killing me."

"I wanted to connect with him, and music is the best way to do that… He likes to sing and he always played piano and organ with us."

'Together forever, never apart'

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to isolate older Canadians from their family members, staff at care homes across the country are finding ways to keep them connected.

At Carveth Care Centre in Gananoque, Ont., staff have begun sharing letters written by residents for their family members.

"We created this template and on the top of our template ... it says, 'Together forever, never apart. Maybe in distance, but never in heart,'" said Shannon Buell, activities director at the home.

"Then what we did is we took a picture of the residents holding their note and we posted on our Facebook page."

She says that the photos and letters have received a hugely positive response.

Buell also gathered some staff and residents to make a COVID-19-themed music video to lift spirits.

"It started off with the song Can't Touch This, then it led into Stayin' Alive, and then it ended off with Holding Out For a Hero," she explained.

The residents and staff danced in the hallways while holding signs, including one that read "COVID don't touch us."

"It was just great to go down the hall and hear the residents laughing, the staff laughing, during a very stressful time," Buell told The Current's Matt Galloway.

'Some well deserved smiles'

At nursing homes with less connectivity, some family members have chipped in and donated equipment to help connect residents.

In an email to The Current, Glen Muise said that he provided a projector and laptop to the R.C. MacGillivray Guest Home in Sydney, N.S., ahead of the lockdown. He called the project "Operation Smile."

"This will allow residents to Skype families and watch drive-in movies for those in wheelchairs," he wrote.

"The 108 residents and staff can now plan a day and have some well deserved smiles."

For people struggling with how to connect with their loved ones in care homes, Buell has a few suggestions.

She says they've been helping family coordinate window visits, reading emails sent from families to residents, and setting up video calls.

"We've had families come in and put posters on their loved ones' window, just reminding [them] that they love them," she added.

Buell also encourages family members to reach out to staff, and activity directors, to find ways to keep in touch.

Written by Jason Vermes. Produced by Rachel Levy-McLaughlin