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As residents at Bozeman Lodge made their way back to their rooms from another activity Tuesday evening, they called out to staff members. Ice cream was being delivered throughout the senior living center and ice-cream-truck music was playing. Those who weren’t in their rooms yet didn’t want to miss out.

“They’re like ‘Wait for me, wait for me,’ because it was just like a revisiting of childhood and they had such fun with it,” Bozeman Lodge executive director Rita Christensen said.

Creating the ice cream cart was an example of how Christensen and her staff have come up with new ways to engage residents. While restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic have force adjustments in typical activities, those at senior living centers have adjusted too. While most visitors aren’t allowed and people must maintain 6 feet between each other, residents have mostly been upbeat.

“They just say, ‘Well, we’ll get through it. We’ll get through this, too,’” Christensen said. “That is really heartwarming for us as staff to see and go, ‘Wow, they are really inspirational.’ They don’t sit around and cry and complain.”

At Bozeman Lodge, residents have used a touch screen, called iN2L, which Christensen estimated is about 50 or 60 inches big. The system allows people to make video calls with family, play games and take virtual visits to museums and Yellowstone National Park.

Musicians who typically performed live have begun playing outdoors or recording videos of themselves for seniors to watch. Instead of having dinner with large groups, meals have been delivered to each room.

While activities are limited, Bozeman Lodge’s space allows for groups of about six people to gather while still maintaining the appropriate distance apart from each other. That’s allowed for small groups to play bingo or spend a happy hour together.

Since their beauty stylist can’t enter the building, Christensen has been shampooing residents’ hair and putting in rollers.

“It makes them feel good,” Christensen said. “It makes them feel pretty. It makes them feel happy.”

When precautions were taken in the first week of March, residents didn’t recognize why their families couldn’t visit. Eventually, the reasoning was understood, Christensen said.

Since staff members have explained the need to stay 6 feet away from each other so frequently, residents have begun repeating that among themselves.

“They’ll tell you, ‘Oh, we’ve been through way worse than this. We lived through World War II. We lived through a depression. We lived through 9/11.’ All of these things,” Christensen said. “They look at it as another challenge, but they’re really very adaptable.”

At Spring Creek Inn, a memory care community in Bozeman, active living director Kasey Kulbeck has organized virtual experiences like visiting zoos. She’s also coordinated more than 100 Skype appointments this month with families.

“Even though they’re not here, the families can see that they’re still doing really well,” Kulbeck said. “They’re still lively. They’re engaged. That’s been really, really awesome.”

At 3 p.m. on May 7, Bozeman Lodge and Spring Creek Inn are planning a car parade to celebrate their residents by honking, cheering and holding up signs. While visiting inside has been limited, they’ve found other ways to connect.

“They find joy in everything we give them to do,” Christensen said. “They’re so grateful for everything you do for them. It’s truly inspiring.”

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Paul Schwedelson can be reached at or 406-582-2670. Follow him on Twitter @pschweds.

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