At the start of the pandemic, people were unsure how to use their time. Many baked bread. Some gardened. Others resurrected old hobbies.
At Parmer Woods assisted living center in North Austin, the residents are making beer.
“It was a personal project for a maintenance director, and when he left, we found all of his gear and thought, ‘in Austin, of course we are brewing our own beer,’” said enrichment director Amy Casillas.
They have been able to brew cider, India pale ale, oatmeal stout and wit beer in the facility’s kitchen.
Casillas said it means much more to the residents than just an activity to pass the time.
“We try to do as many things that can be independently led, so that it doesn’t require so much staff to be present, but that still empowers our residents to be able to be a person,” said Casillas. “It’s very much their own thing.”
At assisted living facilities, it is often too easy for residents to feel isolated and disconnected from the real world, said Casillas.
Recreational therapy is a big part of Casillas’s role at Parmer Woods, where she said the assurance of emotional well-being is an important part of the assisted living experience.
Bill Elder, clinical professor and chair of the Department of Behavioral and Social Sciences at the University of Houston College of Medicine, told Reform Austin that maintaining mental health is especially important for senior citizens right now.
“Visitation restrictions at nursing homes as a result of COVID-19 are likely to be affecting our loved ones’ health,” said Elder. “This goes beyond simple loneliness and can result in significant health issues, both mental and physical.”
“Challenges include social isolation, loss and fear. These affect stress levels, immune functioning and emotions. Understanding the true nature of these problems may be helpful in finding solutions and alleviating the suffering of our loved ones,” Elder said.
Casillas explained that she is dedicated to creating a productive environment for the residents of Parmer Woods.
“They’re still a part of the community, and we want to keep that active. We want to keep them a part of the whole world around them,” said Casillas. “This gives them the chance to be proud of a completed project, and we can share that with other people when we can’t necessarily share ourselves right now.”
The residents within the living facility have not been able to see family or be around people as often since the pandemic began, according to Casillas.
“I think mostly they just miss their families and miss people,” said Casillas. “We don’t have live entertainers anymore. Their grandkids and kids can’t come in. There’s all this separation. I think loneliness is a real easy road to go down.”
While making beer is a liberating activity for the Parmer Woods residents, they have included social distancing as a part of their brewing process, said Casillas.
Residents who regularly participate compromise a cohort of 14, but after COVID-19 hit, they reduced the number of people in the facility’s kitchen to groups of six.
“Different bottling days or brewing days are handled by different people, and they have the same gear that our nursing staff, or care staff, have to have,” said Casillas. “Which is masks, six-feet apart when possible, gloves, lots of hand washing, and tons of sanitation afterwards.”
Parmer Woods has remained free of COVID-19, according to Casillas, and staffers are working to keep it that way while trying to increase opportunities for social interaction.
While a graphic designer donated his time to creating an original logo for their beer, Casillas mentioned that they are not looking to start their own product to sell for profit.
“We do send folks home with beer if they’re interested! We’ve played with the idea of reselling, but that’s a whole lot of legal maybe we’re not so interested in,” said Casillas. “This is for fun and for sharing.”