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How to Stay in Touch With Older Loved Ones During the Pandemic

How to Stay in Touch With Older Loved Ones During the Pandemic

It’s more vital than ever to show senior friends and family that you care. Here’s how to connect from a distance.

Updated on March 27, 2020 at 4:30pm EST

Americans are being asked to stay at home and practice social distancing to help slow the spread of COVID-19. And that means not visiting with loved ones—especially seniors. The reason? People aged 65 and older are at a higher risk of developing severe illness from COVID-19, especially if they also have health conditions such as heart disease, cancer or diabetes, or if they live in a nursing home or long-term care facility. 

While these times are challenging for all of us, they can be particularly difficult for older adults, who are already vulnerable to feelings of loneliness and susceptible to social isolation. But with a little creativity, you can stay connected and show your senior friends and family members you’re thinking about them. Start with these steps.

Pick up the phone
Being stuck at home is a good opportunity to go through your contact list and reach out to people. Let your older relatives, friends and neighbors know you’re thinking of them; it can put a smile on their face and make them feel loved. You can even set up a recurring phone call with a certain person or people at a specific time each day; it will help you to keep tabs on them and give them something to look forward to.
 
Schedule a video chat
If your loved one has access to a smartphone, tablet, desktop or laptop computer, set up a video call via FaceTime, Zoom, Skype or a similar platform. Seniors with smartphones may not realize their device has built-in video chat apps, so you may need to walk them through how to use it.

Video chats are an effective way for grandparents to connect with their grandchildren, in particular. They can practice social distancing while spending quality time reading books, singing songs or partaking in a virtual game night. 

Stop by and say hello—from a safe distance
If you’re aching for an in-person connection, set up an outdoor meeting during which you can talk from at least 6 feet away. Or, consider the approach used by author Max Brooks and his father, legendary comedian Mel Brooks, in a widely shared social media video: Stop by for a quick hello through the window. You get to see each other and avoid potentially spreading the virus.

Send them a note
From what we know thus far, the risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 from mailed letters and packages is low. With that in mind, lift your loved one’s spirits with a heartfelt, hand-written note or card, which they can look at again and again. Consider including a small gift—perhaps a family photo or child’s drawing—to brighten their day. 

Offer to run errands
It’s a scary time for seniors to leave their homes for day-to-day essentials, such as food and medication. So, encourage your loved one to ask for help when they need it—and then volunteer your time. Just be sure to practice social distancing when you deliver the goods. It may be tempting to stay and chat, but it’s best to drop items on their doorstep, wave hello and catch up on the phone later.

If you live far away and can’t run errands for someone, try grocery services like Amazon Fresh, Instacart, Fresh Direct and Peapod; many supermarket chains have similar services, too. You can order food and household goods yourself and then have them delivered to your loved one’s home. Or, look to see if they qualify for a program that delivers free meals to the elderly, such as Meals on Wheels. 

Encourage other family members to do the same
It takes a village. Let other relatives and friends know about the efforts you’re making to reach out so they can follow suit. Together, you can create a plan to divide and conquer—to share the responsibilities of checking in on your loved one, making sure they’re stocked with essential goods and letting them know you care. 

Special considerations for loved ones in nursing homes
Non-essential in-person visits have been restricted in nursing homes across the U.S. What’s more, nursing homes have been advised to cancel group activities and communal dining policies, further limiting opportunities for socialization in these facilities. 

While it’s tough knowing that someone you love is going through a difficult time, remember that the intention is to keep this vulnerable population healthy. To keep in touch in a safe manner, reach out to your senior’s facility and ask which communication options they offer to their residents—whether it be phone calls, emails, video chats or letters—and then get on it. The sooner, the better.

Medically reviewed in March 2020.

Sources:
John Hopkins Medicine. “Coronavirus, Social Distancing and Self-Quarantine,” “Coronavirus and COVID-19: Caregiving for the Elderly.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): People who are at higher risk for severe illness,” “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Preparing for COVID-19: Long-term Care Facilities, Nursing Homes.”
National Institute on Aging. “Social isolation, loneliness in older people pose health risks.”
Jane E. Brody. “Take Steps to Counter the Loneliness of Social Distancing.” The New York Times. March 23, 2020.
Deborah Schoch. “Families Concerned About Loved Ones in Nursing Homes, Assisted Living.” AARP. March 24, 2020.
Linda Dono. “7 Ways to Boost Your Loved One’s Morale During the Coronavirus Epidemic.” AARP. March 17, 2020.
Alexandra Samuel. “How to Use Online Games and Activities to Connect to Grandchildren.” The Wall Street Journal. November 27, 2016.
Ellen S. Glazer. “Grandparenting in the time of COVID-19.” Harvard Health Publishing. March 21, 2020.
Christie D’Zurilla. “Mel Brooks’ son doesn’t want coronavirus to kill his dad — or any other comedy icons.” Los Angeles Times. March 16, 2020.
World Health Organization. “Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19).”
Nick Young. “11 simple ways to care for each other during the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic.” Greenpeace.org. March 20, 2020.
James Firman. “Do Your Part to Stem COVID-19: An Intergenerational Call to Action.” National Council on Aging. March 16, 2020.

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