Keeping Social with Seniors
Creative tips to stay connected with loved ones during the pandemic
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Develop a plan to stay in regular contact. Confirm who your loved one needs to reach out to for food, prescriptions and supplies.
Make a list of organizations that can help. Community and faith-based organizations in your area are a good place to start.
Remember pets. Pets combat loneliness and have been linked to longevity.
Know who’s most at risk for social isolation and loneliness. Look to long-term care facilities, low-income adults and internet coverage gaps for those who may need extra assistance.
Protecting our aging population from the pandemic has rightly claimed the spotlight. However, in this age of caution, there is another threat looming in the darkness: loneliness.
“Science proves it. Social isolation and loneliness are serious health issues,” Sean Voskuhl, AARP Oklahoma state director, says.
In Oklahoma, more than 290,000 people over the age of 50 live alone. This group is at higher risk of social isolation, which is now magnified by the “social distancing” requirements across the country, according to AARP.
With the holiday season fast approaching, many families are facing the fact they may not be able to celebrate together due to travel restrictions or social distancing guidelines. We have collected a few ideas and resources to create meaningful connections with the seniors in your life.
Try a Throwback
Dust off the stamps and the stationery and send your favorite senior a card. They can display the cards as a visual reminder of your connection and can revisit them whenever a wave of loneliness hits. If you can spare the time, include a few printed photos as well.
Linda Barrow, a CKenergy Electric Cooperative member, feels lucky her 91- and 93-year-old parents can still visit on the phone and through mail.
“My sister purchased a ‘GrandPad’ and so now we do video chats and share photos for those who can’t be there in person,” Barrow says. “A visit from their pastor or friends have been possible due to a screened porch. Most importantly, they always want to know all their kids are okay.”
For video chats, FaceTime is a reliable resource for Apple devices. Android devices have options as well, including WhatsApp and Google Duo. Social media networking platforms like Facebook and Instagram have also included group video chatting options for keeping up with the whole family.
To expand your handwritten reach, “Love for the Elderly” is a non-profit organization that has a team who reads, sorts, bundles, and mails letters to seniors across the globe. You can send a handwritten letter or help the mission cover the cost of stamps at lovefortheelderly.org.
Aim for Consistency
Establish a regular pattern of communication. Look to your pre-pandemic routine for ideas. Did you have a weekly Sunday dinner? Try making some of those favorite dishes and calling your senior so they know you’re thinking of them and enjoying fond memories you made together.
Even though the coronavirus has changed many schedules, life can still get hectic. If you can’t commit to a regular schedule, end each conversation with the promise of a future connection. If you are in a bind, give AARP’s “Friendly Voices” program a try. AARP will give your loved one a call to check in and see how they are doing.
“We know that sometimes just hearing a friendly voice on the other end of the line can help,” Voskuhl says. “AARP Friendly Voices are trained AARP volunteers who will provide a call to say hello.”
To request a call for your or a loved one call 1-888-281-0145 or sign up online at https://aarpcommunityconnections.org/friendly-voices/. You do not have to be an AARP member to take advantage of the program.
Leave a Legacy
Ask your loved one about their life experiences. Too often, seniors feel undervalued, but they have acquired much knowledge to share. As a long-term goal, you can capture their life story for future generations. If you are looking for ideas to guide the conversation, “The Legacy Project” has done much of the groundwork for you. The organization offers a free, fill-in-the-blanks life story template along with tips for interviewing an older adult you can download at legacyproject.org.
If your senior is comfortable, you could use a video conferencing application, like Zoom, to record the conversation. Or, after the life story is complete, you or a family member could capture the audio and send it to your loved one. They will then have a keepsake they can read, watch or listen to at any time.
Remember that although we may be physically distant, we don’t have to be emotionally alone. If your gatherings are limited this holiday season, still use the special time to connect with those you love in meaningful ways for your family.