The social distancing that keeps our residents safe may be hard on you. Separation leaves some people feeling lonely, anxious, or out of touch. So, we’ve mustered our creativity to help families stay connected with the seniors they can’t visit.
The following infographic provides a summary of our suggestions. Scroll down for more details.
We offer more details and ideas below.
While we’ve tailored our suggestions to meet Care Haven’s safety guidelines, they may be useful to others with at-risk friends or family members. Feel free to share!
“Don’t underestimate the power of a phone call,” says Jennifer L. FitzPatrick, a gerontology instructor at Johns Hopkins University and author of “ Cruising Through Caregiving: Reducing the Stress of Caring for Your Loved One .” But because many of us aren’t doing much outside the home these days, it may be hard to come up with topics to discuss. FitzPatrick suggests reading a book or watching a favorite TV show or movie together over the phone. You could also do fill-in-the-blank stories or use “table topics”-type questions to spark conversation.
Plan a window visit
You’ve likely seen viral photos of “window visits” people are having with senior family members at their homes or outside of senior care facilities. During these visits, family members stay outside, but they chat with their loved ones on the phone or bring handmade signs with messages. “It feels much more like a normal visit when they can see their loved ones,” says Goyer.
In addition to window visits, families are also putting a social distancing spin on other types of house calls. “Caregivers have told me their loved ones sit on their porch and family and friends sit on a lawn chair in the yard far away and they visit that way, or from a car,” Goyer explains. “My cousin’s children make chalk drawings in my aunt and uncle’s driveway (their grandparents), and they sit on the porch and watch them draw and can communicate from a safe distance.”
Between Virtual Visits, Stay In Touch With Seniors The Old-Fashioned Way
Older adults learned to stay connected between visits through the fine art of letter writing. Let’s face it: we all love getting cards and notes via snail mail.
Don’t be intimidated, staring at that empty sheet of paper. A short note even a postcard will do. Just include
A salutation (“Dear ____,”)
3 or 4 sentences
The closing (“Love,”)
Most important, your signature legible, with an identifier to help if a caregiver needs to read it (Your granddaughter Joan Your son Jon Your old friend June George, your friend from church Gina, your neighbor from Brookside)
Feel free to add a heart, smiley face or doodle, too. You can even write several notes or cards at the same time and then mail them days or a week apart.
Snail mail: that’s all it takes to stay connected with seniors when you can’t visit.
Speaking of mail, we appreciate it when you send all correspondence to our office, where we can sanitize it before redelivery.
Set up a family Video Conference
FaceTime and video calls aren’t just for young people. If the senior in your life is in a nursing home or assisted living and doesn’t have their own equipment, chances are good the staff can help. At The Falls Home, an assisted living facility in Montour Falls, N.Y., administrator Julie Everhart says they will arrange video calls through the front desk so that residents can stay connected. “Our staff will then coordinate a quiet location in order to give the families their privacy,” she says.
By using a service like Zoom, you can involve multiple parties, and even make it a virtual happy hour or lunch. “Everyone in the family can bring a beverage or meal to their computer and catch up,” FitzPatrick says. And if there’s a special occasion, take a video and send clips to your loved ones even better if you can arrange a video call to sing “Happy Birthday” or “meet” a new grandbaby.
“Several months ago, my husband and I streamed a party we had for our newborn son for his ill grandfather,” says Nicole Arzt, a marriage and family therapist based in Orange County, California. “While he wasn’t there to attend the event, he was able to hear everyone’s voices and feel like he was part of the experience.”
Make a safe in-person visit
“If you live near your older loved ones, drive to their house, sit outside and make a phone call,” FitzPatrick recommends. “You can wave and sing ‘Happy Birthday’ so your parent can see you.” You can even leave a cake on the front porch no contact is needed. Even if it’s not a special occasion, bring the kids and even your pets by to say hi through the window. They can draw pictures or dress in funny costumes to bring a smile to their grandparent’s face.
Take a virtual vacation
Sure, most resorts, museums, and other fun destinations are closed to the public, but you can still explore the world together from the safety of your own home. “For example,” says Sarafan, “why not give them a call and take a tour of an online museum together?” You can find free online virtual tours of destinations like Yellowstone National Park Guggenheim Museum in New York City, the Louvre in Paris, and even Mars. As long as your senior loved one has access to a smart device, they’ll be able to follow along at your chosen destination. Sarafan says Home Care Assistance has also created a Life Enrichment Guide with additional virtual activity ideas for seniors and their families.
Enlist caregivers’ help
If your loved one has limited abilities, lives in a senior care facility, or has an in-home care provider, see what their caregivers can do to assist them in staying in touch. “Many facilities are purchasing tablets and having staff take them to residents’ rooms periodically to video chat with their families,” Goyer says. “This is particularly important for residents who are unable to manage it by themselves.” If you’re going the non-electronic route, Sarafan adds that caregivers can also be asked to assist with letters and cards so your loved one can provide you with regular updates. “One thing many of our Home Care Assistance care team members do is write handwritten notes to clients, family members, and community partners,” she explains. “A caregiver can easily help and even write letters for the older adult should they need help.”
A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words (Which Is Many, Many Visits!)
Consider creating an album filled with pictures of family members or recalling special memories. Take the opportunity to scan and upload treasured wedding photos or vacation pictures, thereby preserving a digital copy. (You can always use them later in other albums as well!) Our caregivers appreciate it if you also add text to photo books, identifying both people and places. Then we can help your loved ones share their memories.
However you choose to reach out, make sure it happens on a regular basis, Artz says. Call every Sunday or at a regularly scheduled time, and then make every effort to follow through, as your family member could very well plan their whole day around it.
“Many of us are struggling with social distancing all of a sudden, but it’s important to remember that a lot of older adults are isolated already and have been unintentionally socially distancing for quite a while,” FitzPatrick says. “Use this time as a lesson to plan how you will engage with them in person more frequently once this temporary unprecedented time in history is over.”