The coronavirus remains a concern in communities around the country, particularly for seniors and other individuals with certain underlying health conditions.
Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities are taking extra precautions to protect these vulnerable individuals. Unfortunately, that means putting strict visitor policies in place to limit possible virus exposure.
Social isolation is not a “new” phenomenon for older adults, but the current situation takes the problem to a new level. Research shows that feelings of isolation and loneliness can have a significant impact on physical and mental health, so older adults must find new ways to stay in touch with their family and friends.
Although social distancing is necessary to protect older adults right now, there are many ways to stay connected. Here are a few creative ideas to help caregivers and family members stay in touch with a senior loved one.
For older adults in isolation from their friends and family, a visual connection is everything. If you live nearby, consider stopping by their home or long-term care facility, pull up a chair by the window, and talk on the phone. The face-to-face interaction will brighten their day, plus it allows you the chance to observe any physical changes in your loved one. For example, if you notice weight loss or a significant change in mobility, you should address that with the Administrator immediately.
Technology is a wonderful thing, especially when you can’t be there in person! There are a variety of apps you can use to “see” your senior loved one virtually, especially if you want to get the whole family together at once for a group chat via Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, or Google Hangout. Many of today’s older adults are tech-savvy and can easily connect with you on their smartphone, tablet, or computer. Still, others might need you to offer a bit of “tech support” over the phone to get them set up.
An unexpected flower delivery is a perfect way to delight the senior in your life and remind them that they’re on your mind. If your senior loved one lives in a long-term care facility, call ahead to make sure deliveries are allowed. In some cases, the facility may have a specific protocol in place for deliveries. Be sure to communicate any special instructions with the flower delivery service to avoid any delivery delays.
Deliver a Care Package
Many long-term care facilities have suspended group activities, including games and crafts, so your loved ones likely have a lot of time on their hands. Put together a care package and fill it with items that your loved ones can come back to again and again. Include items that will work with their existing hobbies, or ask them about something they’ve always wanted to try. Here are some items you might consider including:
- A handwritten note
- Family pictures
- Crossword/Sudoku books
- A coloring book with crayons or colored pencils
- A deck of cards
- A new book or magazine
- Hand sanitizer or sanitizing wipes
- Needles and yarn for knitting
- Healthy snacks
Document Family History & Stories
If you haven’t done so already, this is a great time to start recording your family’s story with the help of your senior loved one. Ask them to start a journal and document their own life story, as well as any family history they can recall. (Some older adults may have a difficult time writing due to arthritis or low vision. In that case, give them a call and ask them to tell their story as you write it down!) If they have any official records like birth certificates or family pictures, ask them to gather, organize, and label them. Your senior loved one’s memories are invaluable and cannot be replicated when they are no longer with you. Take this time to document and preserve as much as possible with their help.
Share a Virtual Meal
Order their favorite dinner and arrange to have it delivered to them using a service like DoorDash, Uber Eats, or GrubHub. Arrange to have a meal for yourself delivered at the same time, then call to talk with your loved one on speakerphone or video chat as you enjoy dinner together.
We’re all living through this extraordinary time together, but older adults are feeling the effects of COVID-19 more than the rest of us. During this time of social distancing, remember to keep the seniors in your life socially connected.