Editor's note: The Ouachita Citizen's Senior Citizen Quarterly is featured in this week's print edition.
The COVID-19 pandemic means a new reality for those over 60, who are most at risk: Isolation.
Healthy seniors may protect themselves from the virus through social distancing, but many in care homes are facing changes to routines and no visitors. This is especially hard on people with dementia or Alzheimer’s, who might not understand the new rules. Seniors at home may also feel more isolated, with family living far away or unable to visit.
How do we look at social distancing to protect seniors physically but still engage them socially?
Caring for senior relatives and friends begins with following all recommendations from health officials in your area, as well as recommendations from nursing homes, assisted living and elderly housing.
It is just as important to take steps to keep them from feeling isolated. We all need something constructive to do and seniors, just like anyone else, like to help people. Doing small acts of kindness and making people feel like they are a part of our life matters.
• Stay in touch with an old-fashioned phone call? Start off the conversation reminiscing on shared memories will keep a senior engaged and always end the call with a reminder that you will call again soon. For seniors that are hard of hearing involve grandchildren to write letters and make cards. A fun family project would be to find old photos to send that have the senior in the photo; you may want to add names and date on back of photo. Senior adults love to get mail!
• Family and friends can stay intouch with technology savvy seniors with smart-phones or computers. Many seniors are on face book and that is a great way to stay connected. Starting a private family page with shared pictures would really make those grandparents smile!
• Social routines in nursing homes are quite different with residents being asked to stay primarily in their rooms. Socialization of dining together at this time does not exist but families and friends can finds ways to recreate meal times. Eating dinner together over a video call, Facetime, Facebook, there are endless possibilities for families to be involved.
• Families can watch movies virtually with their grandchildren. Playing cards with grandchildren using social media can be entertaining for both and babysitting relief for the parents. For those musical families entertaining with a family concert by phone or video will make everyone smile.
• If you have a family member in cognitive decline, reading to a senior over the phone would be comforting. You can even ask a grandparent to read a bed time story to the grandchildren by phone.
• Encourage your parents and senior adult friends to write letters to family and friends to help support others while being therapeutic also for them. For those that still bake suggest dropping off a baked item to a neighbor’s front door, a great opportunity to be neighborly.
• Encourage seniors to maintain a daily routine. If they normally go to a gym or senior center but cannot due to facilities being closed suggest that they go for a walk. You too can join them by phone for that walk together. If you normally would stop by Mom or Dad’s house and watch the news with them continue doing so with your phones on. The routine interaction will be helpful for all family members.
Would you like to make a senior adult feel useful and valuable? Listen and take advantage of an older person’s wisdom, they have lived a long life and have been through many struggles so listen to their knowledge and advice. Just having someone listen will increase their mental well being in this challenging time.
Our elderly population after not seeing loved ones could use some extra looking after. As family and a community we need to help our seniors stay connected.