6 Creative Ways to Communicate While Maintaining Social Distancing with Seniors
To slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect your senior loved ones from the coronavirus, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging citizens to practice “social distancing.” The CDC requests individuals to keep at least a six-foot distance between people, avoiding crowds, canceling events, and staying away from sick people. Some states are even ordering residents to “shelter in place.”
But although social distancing may reduce the risk older adults face from COVID-19, it can leave seniors vulnerable to social isolation. Feelings of loneliness and social isolation in seniors have been linked to depression, worsening physical health, and increased stress and cognitive changes. Conversely, seniors who are socially active receive many physical and emotional benefits.
Although you may not be able to visit and spend quality time with your elderly loved ones, you can still stay in touch while protecting your loved one from COVID-19. There are plenty of creative ways for seniors to stay active and keep communicating while maintaining social distance, including:
Phone and video calls
Calling your elderly loved ones a few times a day can help reduce feelings of social isolation. Take time to share stories, tell jokes, solve riddles, play simple games, or read aloud with them. If possible, take advantage of video call apps like FaceTime or Skype and conference in multiple family members on the same call. Hearing loved one’s voices and seeing their faces will help brighten your beloved senior’s day.
Give your elderly loved one a pleasant surprise by mailing letters. Let them know you are thinking of them and that they are dear to you. Remember to not limit yourself to just a written letter. Receiving pressed flowers, burned CDs, printed photos, or even a grandchild’s art project can be a wonderful gift to open.
Book and movie groups
Pick a book or movie to read or watch, and then have a discussion about it over the phone or via video chat. Revisit a classic that both you and your loved one have enjoyed in the past or use this opportunity to try out a book or movie neither of you have read or seen before. Also consider finding audio books or podcasts that you can both enjoy. Media is a great escape, and many seniors will relish the opportunity to exercise their minds by having an engaging conversation with their loved ones.
Virtual group meetings, events, or classes
In recent weeks, many religious organizations, senior centers, exercise studios, and other businesses and community groups have converted to a virtual format and are now hosting classes, events, and meetings using Google Hangouts, Zoom, FaceTime, YouTube, and other Internet-based platforms. Do some research and help your loved one connect virtually with his or her favorite activities or community groups — and consider participating together, if possible. In addition to providing some enrichment and entertainment, participating together will give you and your loved one something to discuss afterward.
You may need to provide your loved one with verbal instructions over the phone to help them install software or apps, access websites, or get logged on. Although the technology may seem intimidating, it is important to remind your loved one that keeping to normal routines as much as possible and having fun activities to look forward to will help to alleviate stress and promote a feeling of belonging despite not being able to participate in person.
Have supplies delivered
With many seniors staying home, running out of food or medications can be a real risk. Show your loved one that you are still thinking of them even if you are not able to be together right now by ordering groceries or meal deliveries to their home.
To help keep seniors safe and connected to their communities, voice-activated alerts, including from Amazon Alexa, help seniors live a safe and independent life. Voice-activated medical alerts summon help ASAP, and some systems don't require wearable devices. They can even be used to call or send voice messages to loved ones.
Keeping seniors and other vulnerable populations safe through social distancing is absolutely vital as COVID-19 spreads. Although it can be tricky at times, there are plenty of ways to help elderly people stay socially connected and not fall prey to feelings of loneliness and social isolation.