Socialization is a big part of what keeps older adults healthy. Research shows it reduces depression and can even increase longevity. But the COVID-19 crisis makes socializing with seniors much more challenging.
“Older parents and friends need you now more than ever,” said Raphael Balbino, MD, a geriatrician at Baptist AgeWell. “The stress and anxiety of COVID-19 tends to affect older people significantly, especially since they are at higher risk of developing more serious complications from the disease,” he said.
So, what can we do to provide support and companionship for older loved ones when in-person visits aren’t a good idea?
“Look for creative ways to stay connected,” Dr. Balbino said. “Social distancing doesn’t have to mean social isolation.”
Simple technology solutions
Simple and technology don’t always go together, but today’s video chat programs, like FaceTime and Zoom, are easy to use. “Contrary to popular belief, many seniors are becoming increasingly comfortable with technology,” Dr. Balbino said.
If your older loved one isn’t well versed on how to video chat, walk them through it, step-by-step. Realize it may take patience and time. Consider sending them simple instructions via email (or the regular mail!) on how to get started. For them, there’s a big incentive: getting to see family and maybe even little Johnny walking for the first time.
“An added benefit of video chatting is that you can see how your older loved one is really doing,” Dr. Balbino said. “It’s easy to miss subtle signs of declining health when you are only hearing their voice.”
For many older adults, their faith is a social connection they rely on weekly. Many churches and synagogues have online services you can help them get connected to. And the same is true for social organizations and support groups they may be involved in.
Encourage extended family and friends to reach out
It takes a village, as the saying goes. Friends, grandkids, nephews and nieces can provide support and comfort, too. Encourage kids to send a thoughtful homemade card or letter. Let neighbors know the person is on their own during the COVID crisis and ask them to reach out periodically.
Deliver necessities like food and medication.
Understandably, many seniors are reluctant to go the grocery store or run errands. Make sure they’re getting their necessities. You can leave them on their front doorstep rather than going inside and say a socially distanced hello.
Start a virtual book club
Pick a book your older loved one is interested in and agree to read it at the same time. Set a date to discuss the book, or do it chapter-by-chapter for more frequent contact.
Not only is this a great way to sharpen intellectual skills for both of you, it can also be way to delve deeper and maybe even hear some favorite memories or stories for the first time.
Or, you could involve more family members or friends and have a video chat book discussion.
“The beauty of engaging in these creative ways to connect is that it doesn’t have to end when the pandemic does,” said Dr. Balbino.