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Business of Aging Special Coverage

‘We’re Like a Cruise Ship’

By Mark Morris

Cheryl Moran supervises a balloon volleyball game

Cheryl Moran supervises a balloon volleyball game at the Atrium at Cardinal Drive.

Visit any senior-living community and it’s easy to notice all the activities residents take part in. But there’s more to all that activity than just fun and games.

Indeed, while providing entertainment, activities also contribute to the well-being of seniors in every setting, from independent living to assisted living and memory care, and even in skilled-nursing facilities.

It all begins with crafting an activities calendar. Sondra Jones, chief marketing officer for the Arbors Assisted Living communities in Amherst, Chicopee, Greenfield, and Westfield, said residents have a full schedule of activities from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. They can take part in anything from exercise sessions to religious services to food classes and lectures. On one sunny day in October, residents in Chicopee took part in an outdoor drumming circle. Calendar offerings change all the time based on the types of activities that interest residents the most.

“Because people live here, we’re in essence an apartment building,” Jones said. “And in some ways, we’re like a cruise ship, because residents have all their meals and activities here, too.”

Even with nearly a dozen scheduled activities available each day, some residents might want to take part in something that’s not on the calendar. That’s OK with Cheryl Moran, executive director at the Atrium at Cardinal Drive in Agawam, who noted that this is their home and the staff are visitors in the home.

“The activities our residents take part in are all geared to keeping these skills a part of their everyday life. When they begin to struggle with a skill, we step in and help them find a different way to succeed.”

“One woman likes to spend her time doing crossword puzzles, and another just likes to paint because it makes her feel like an artist,” Moran said.

Heidi Cornwell, director of Marketing & Sales for Kimball Farms Life Care in Lenox, said most facilities make sure they cover five key areas when planning an activities calendar: gross motor skills, socialization, self-care, sensory, and memory. Specific activities are usually modified to fit a particular setting to help everyone keep moving and engaging as part of their daily routine.

“The activities our residents take part in are all geared to keeping these skills a part of their everyday life,” Cornwell said. “When they begin to struggle with a skill, we step in and help them find a different way to succeed. We work very hard to be a failure-free environment.”

According to Lori Todd, executive director for Loomis Lakeside at Reeds Landing in Springfield, when a person needs medical attention in a skilled-nursing setting, activities remain an essential factor in the patient’s recovery.

“Activities definitely help patients by encouraging the kind of wellness behaviors that contribute to the healing process,” she said.

Meanwhile, in settings such as assisted living, the level of functioning varies from person to person. Moran said she likes to have everyone together because it creates a dynamic in which people of different levels of function help each other with activities or just daily life.

Residents at the Arbors in Chicopee

Residents at the Arbors in Chicopee participate in an outdoor drumming circle.

“Our high-functioning residents enjoy helping people in wheelchairs or those who need help in some other way,” she told BusinessWest. “For the person who functions on a higher level, it gives them a sense of purpose.”


Much More Than Bingo

In the past, senior-living activities usually concentrated on gathering for bingo. While bingo remains popular, Todd said many group activities now aim to incorporate exercise so they can combine something fun with meeting a patient’s rehab needs at the same time.

“When setting up the calendar, we make sure to include plenty of wellness activities, whether they are emotional, physical, social, reminiscing, basically anything that helps memory or keeps people physically active,” Todd said. They also insert fun social activities such as a happy hour with an entertainer. “We strive for feel-good activities as well as ones that promote healing.”

Physical and social activities are certainly not limited to schedules on a calendar. Cornwell discussed how the actions of a resident leaving their apartment, walking down the hall, perhaps taking an elevator, and then walking to the dining area all contribute to physical activity. Once they arrive, they sit with a friend or neighbor and then engage in conversation, which adds to their social experience.

“When setting up the calendar, we make sure to include plenty of wellness activities, whether they are emotional, physical, social, reminiscing, basically anything that helps memory or keeps people physically active.”

“This is where senior living provides much more physical movement than if the person was at home,” she added, “where a caregiver brings them a meal and they might not leave their chair all day.”

Activities involving music are popular in every senior-living setting. While singers are not yet allowed in most places due to COVID-19 concerns, Cornwell said it’s a form of therapy when violinists, pianists, and other musicians come to play.

“Studies show music touches a part of the brain and leaves a positive impact,” she noted. “Music goes a long way toward self-care and helps people feel better about themselves.”

Jones credits her activities staff for finding an innovative way to include singers into music performances while still following COVID mandates.

“We had singers outside in the courtyard area while the residents gathered in the library with the doors open so they could see and hear the entertainment from a safe distance,” she said.

As mandates continue to gradually ease, everyone who spoke with BusinessWest expressed gratitude for all the difficult work the staff at senior-living communities performed during the worst days of the pandemic.

At the height of COVID, residents were essentially quarantined in their apartments, so staff at each facility made an extra effort to stay engaged with them.

Residents at Kimball Farms engage in tai chi.

Residents at Kimball Farms engage in tai chi.

“Our resident-care attendants and activity teams all turned into nail technicians, hairdressers, and personal stylists,” Cornwell said. “They did everything to keep residents looking good, feeling good, and feeling like someone cared.”

At the peak of the pandemic, when frequent temperature taking was essential, staff would dress up as a lion or some other whimsical costume just to get a laugh out of the residents.

One common practice at several facilities involved opening apartment doors and encouraging residents to socialize from the entrance of their unit. Staff would also use the hallway as the focal point for a bingo game and, in one instance, as a socially distanced bowling alley. “All the staff found creative ways to keep things social,” Jones said.

Added Cornwell, “the pandemic has been difficult and extremely challenging. Our residents rallied, and I give our staff 100% props for their out-of-the-box thinking to keep people safe and engaged.”

Before vaccines were available and while COVID was rampant, Todd said patients at the skilled-nursing facility at Loomis Lakeside at Reeds Landing could not have any visitors in their rooms. Fortunately, that unit is located on the first floor.

“Families were able to visit their loved ones through the window and could communicate by phone or iPad through the glass,” she explained. “We wanted to address social isolation while at the same time keeping everyone safe.”

Without that effort to engage with residents, the lack of socialization can quickly lead to depression, Jones noted. “Once they could leave their rooms again, I heard one woman say to another, ‘I haven’t held anyone’s hand in so long.’ Social interaction is a good distraction.”

For nearly four years, Gladys Fioravanti has lived at the Arbors in Chicopee. She believes activities are an important part of staying healthy.

“If you sit in your room day after day, you start thinking too much,” Fioravanti said. “You think of your loss, then you break down and cry and need some pills to calm you down, so I think it’s good to have something to do.”

She takes part in a number of activities because they keep her busy, but not too busy.

“I like the exercise class in the morning followed by the Mass right after,” she said. “After exercise, the Mass allows you to cool down.”

One afternoon, Fioravanti was sitting in the library area with several friends, including Claire Henault, whom Fioravanti met at the Arbors.

“We play cards together,” Fioravanti told BusinessWest. “We cheat together — I mean, Claire cheats.” At which point Henault chimed in, “I can’t be cheating because I never win.”


Moving Toward Normalcy

While residents are free to move around their facilities, families are not yet allowed in common areas but may visit loved ones in their apartments, where they can eat in the unit or take the resident out for dinner. Before COVID, families could join the loved ones during activity time.

“Recently, a family member called just to ask when they can attend the activities again because they enjoyed it too,” Moran said.

All the managers praised the patience families showed during the worst days of COVID. Since the beginning, Cornwell said, they have educated families on the latest protocols and good safety habits. “And we’re still educating them.”

The use of iPads and other tablets were a key to connecting families with their loved ones when no visitors were allowed. Cornwell said Kimball Farms parent Berkshire Healthcare Systems invested in tablets so residents could speak to family members on Skype or FaceTime. Even for residents who were aphasic and had trouble with verbal communication, that connection was still important for all involved.

“Even if the resident couldn’t verbally express their feelings, they could at least see the faces of their loved ones and hear their voices,” Cornwell explained. “Family members were able to see the resident’s smile and maybe even some blush on their face when our care attendants would put some makeup on them to help them look beautiful for the camera.”

As more people receive the COVID vaccine and booster shot, Moran hopes to eventually see families back inside the Atrium at Cardinal Drive.

“It’s enjoyable when we have lots of people here with the residents and the families are all talking with each other,” she said. “I don’t know when we’ll be able to invite everyone back in, but I hope we eventually can because I miss them.”

Like many industries, senior care is always looking to add more staff. Still, Jones noted, while the Arbors had some challenges, staffing is not a big issue.

“We have several staff members who have been with us for more than 20 years,” she said. “We will always have turnover, but we also have a core of stable employees, so that’s a real positive.”

During the height of COVID, Moran hired a number of Harbor Universal Associates (HUAs) to accommodate residents who may want coffee before 9 a.m. when breakfast is served. By having this extra staff person to help and engage with residents, Moran can offer what she called parallel programming.

“We may have one main activity going on in the center of the room, while several smaller groups are doing what they want around the perimeter,” she said. “The HUAs provide that added level of support for our residents who want to do their own thing.”

When a family comes to visit a new resident, Jones said, her goal is to be able to tell them, “your mom is busy right now.”

Ultimately, she added, all the activities available for seniors creates what she called a healthy distraction. “It beats having dinner with Pat and Vanna every night.”

Special Coverage Travel and Tourism

Fun in the Sun

Last year may not have been a total washout when it came to outdoor recreation and events, but many well-loved attractions and destinations had to dramatically scale back operations — if they opened at all. This year, with May 29 marking the end of most gathering restrictions in Massachusetts, there’s once again plenty to look forward to. You can read about some of them on the following pages: two local collegiate baseball teams back in action, the return of a beloved music and craft festival in Greenfield, and — as a shoutout to the governor — a baker’s dozen other options. There’s much, much more to look forward to, so get online and check out what else is happening near you, during a summer that promises to be a long-awaited breath of fresh air.

Berkshires Arts Festival

380 State Road, Great Barrington


Admission: $7-$14; free for children under 10

Aug. 13-15: Ski Butternut plays host to the Berkshires Arts Festival, a regional tradition now in its 20th year. When Gov. Charlie Baker announced the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions as of Aug. 1 (since revised to May 29), event organizers moved the dates of this year’s festival to mid-August. Thousands of art lovers and collectors are expected to stop by to check out and purchase the creations of more than 175 artists and designers from across the country, in both outdoor and air-conditioned indoor exhibition spaces. “With its relaxed atmosphere, great food, exceptional art, and fine crafts, puppet shows, and live music,” the Berkshires Visitors Bureau notes, “it’s a great weekend for the entire family.”


The Big E

1305 Memorial Ave., West Springfield


Admission: $8 and up; free for children under 5; 17-day pass $20-$40

Sept. 17 to Oct. 3: Yes, it’s happening. And as regional fairs go, it’s still the big one, with something for everyone, whether it’s the copious fair food or the livestock shows, the Avenue of States houses and parades, the local vendors and crafters, or the live music. Musical highlights this year include Machine Gun Kelly in concert on Sept. 17, and Brad Paisley performing in the arena on Sept. 24, marking the 20th anniversary of the first time Paisley played the Big E.


Crab Apple Whitewater Rafting

2056 Mohawk Trail, Charlemont


Admission: Varies by activity

All summer: Wanna get wet? Crab Apple is a third-generation, multi-state family business that operates locally on the Deerfield River in the northern Berkshire Mountains of Western Mass. Its rafting excursions range from mild to wild, full- or half-day runs, in rafts and inflatable kayaks. In short, Crab Apple offers something for everyone, from beginners to more experienced rafters. Starting May 29, the company will accept reservations for all group sizes. Meanwhile, waivers will be sent in advance to guests for e-signing to ensure a touch-free check-in process, hand-washing stations have been added at all building entrances, and transportation to and from the river will be offered in vans and buses.


Drive-in Concerts at the Wick

The Wick, Legion Road, Southwick


Admission: $25 to $45

June 11, July 9, Aug. TBA: The national touring and recording artists Beatlemania Again will headline a summer series of live drive-in concerts on to benefit the Southwick Civic Fund, which creates and produces events that provide a sense of community spirit, celebration, and civic pride. The concert will be held at the Southwick MotoX Track (the Wick) on Legion Road in Southwick on June 11 at 7:30 p.m., and will follow all current CDC and local health department guidelines. Each vehicle will have a space next to it for the occupants to set up lawn chairs or blankets to enjoy the show. A modest PA and lighting will provide a real concert feel. Upcoming concerts in the series include Foreigners Journey (July 9) and an August show to be announced.


FreshGrass Festival

1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams


Admission: $50-$150 for three-day pass; free for children under 6

Sept. 24-26: The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art is known for its musical events, and the FreshGrass festival is among the highlights, showcasing dozens of bluegrass artists and bands over three days. This year, the lineup includes Dispatch, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Béla Fleck My Bluegrass Heart (featuring Michael Cleveland, Sierra Hull, Justin Moses, Mark Schatz, and Bryan Sutton), Watchouse, Sarah Jarosz, and many more. FreshGrass features bluegrass traditionalists and innovators on four stages and platforms throughout the museum’s 16-acre campus. Festival programming also includes FreshScores, a silent film with original live music; FreshGrass commissions and world premieres; instrument and industry workshops; pop-up performances and retail; and local Berkshire food and spirits vendors.


Fresh Paint Springfield

Downtown Springfield


Admission: Free

June 5-13: Fresh Paint Springfield, the mural festival that began in 2019 in downtown Springfield and transformed large exterior walls into art, will return with 10 new murals downtown and in Mason Square. This year’s festival will involve members of the community in the design and painting of all 10 murals, which will result in opportunities for more than 1,000 Springfield residents to actively participate in the beautification of the city. The murals will use a technique that employs giant paint-by-numbers canvases on special polytab mural fabric for members of the community to paint at COVID-safe outdoor paint parties during the festival. New this year, the Community Mural Apprentice program will pair 10 local artists with established muralists to learn how to independently engage with the community in designing and painting large, professional murals.


Historic Deerfield

84B Old Main St., Deerfield, MA


Admission: $5-$18; free for children under 6

All summer: This outdoor museum interprets the history and culture of early New England and the Connecticut River Valley. Visitors can tour 12 carefully preserved antique houses dating from 1730 to 1850 and explore world-class collections of regional furniture, silver, textiles, and other decorative arts. Summer activities include educational lectures, cooking demonstrations, and exhibitions of period items and art. Due to COVID-19, access to the historic house museums is still restricted, but at least one historic house will open for touring each day, with wider access possible later on. Visitors should inquire on the day of their visit which house is open for touring that day.


Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival

358 George Carter Road, Becket


Admission: Prices vary

June 30 to Aug. 29: Jacob’s Pillow has become one of the country’s premier showcases for dance, and this year’s festival returns with live, in-person events, but much more as well. “We will share the restorative and uplifting power of dance in person at our campus in the Berkshire Hills, on the road in our communities, as well as through live and on-demand events online to reach audiences across the world,” its directors say. “Our offerings will include commissions, premieres, Pillow debuts, talks, and workshops that take into account COVID-compliant protocols to ensure the health and safety of our community. The festival will put artists back to work after the devastation of the pandemic and remind us all of the power of dance to positively impact communities.”


Mattoon Street Arts Festival

Mattoon Street, Springfield


Admission: Free

Sept. 11-12: Now in its 48th year, the Mattoon Street Arts Festival is the longest-running arts festival in the Pioneer Valley, featuring about 100 exhibitors, including artists that work in ceramics, fibers, glass, jewelry, painting and printmaking, photography, wood, metal, and mixed media. Food vendors and strolling musicians help to make the event a true late-summer destination. Admission is free, as is parking at the TD Bank lot. Located just three blocks from I-91, this family-friendly event is ideal for holiday shopping, seeing new craft ideas, or just walking on a beautiful Victorian street.

Pedal ‘n’ Party

Brunelle’s Marina, 1 Alvord St., South Hadley


Admission: $30 for 60 minutes, $15 for 30 minutes

All summer: Want to have some fun out on the water? Rent an individual hydrobike, which can be use to explore the Connecticut River and the streams that feed into it. This eco-friendly, pedal-powered vessel moves at a comfortable 4-6 mph with easy effort. From its stability to its high visibility on the water, the hydrobike is engineered for a safe, reliable ride. Its pontoons were scientifically developed by a professional canoe designer for optimum buoyancy, speed, and maneuverability, ensuring a smooth ride even in very choppy water. Stable enough to dive from, the hydrobike can also handle rough water conditions, including five-foot swells. Rent it for a beautiful day on the water, a workout, or a fun group activity.


Pioneer Valley Ballet

Park Hill Orchard, 82 Park Hill Road, Easthampton


Admission: $20, $10 for children and seniors

June 4-5: It’s been a year and a half since Pioneer Valley Ballet (PVB) last performed for a live audience, but that will change in June as the company welcomes spring with an outdoor, site-specific performance of one of Shakespeare’s most popular and treasured works, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. After having to cancel all of its 2020 performances, PVB is once again taking to the stage — only this time the ‘stage’ is Easthampton’s Park Hill Orchard, where for two afternoons small groups will wind through the fields, discovering scenes from the Midsummer story at sites throughout the picturesque orchard. A new audience will enter every 30 minutes. The first performance of each day will be a non-roaming, single-location performance for anyone with mobility concerns.


Six Flags New England

1623 Main St., Agawam


Admission: $29.99 and up; season passes $49.99

All summer: Continuing an annual tradition of adding a new major attraction each spring, Six Flags New England recently unveiled Supergirl Skyflyer, a spinning, high-speed thrill ride. The main park is now open, and the Hurricane Harbor waterpark opens Memorial Day weekend. “We are beyond thrilled that we can reopen our theme park with a full complement of our more than 100 rides, attractions, and unique experiences,” park President Pete Carmichael said recently. “Now more than ever, families need an escape that is safe, accessible and fun.”


The Zoo in Forest Park

293 Sumner Ave., Springfield, MA


Admission: $5-$10; free for children under 1

Through Oct. 14: The Zoo in Forest Park, located inside Springfield’s Forest Park, is home to a wide variety of species found throughout the world and North America. Meanwhile, the zoo maintains a focus on conservation, wildlife education, and rehabilitations. The Zoo is open seven days a week, weather permitting, but all guests, including members, currently need a timed ticket to visit. Recently, state Sen. Eric Lesser and other local lawmakers announced $125,000 in pandemic recovery funding for the zoo to continue its mission of education, conservation, and rehabilitation.