The spread of coronavirus COVID-19 has caused millions of Americans to adopt healthy “social distancing” practices, which means staying at home in order to help prevent the spread of the disease to vulnerable populations, including the elderly. As a result, many families are finding creative ways to check in and bring comfort to their senior loved ones while spending time apart — including turning to technology, from email to teleconferencing apps like Skype and Zoom.
Even before COVID-19, finding ways to connect remotely with seniors has been an important part of daily life for millions of Sandwich Generation caregivers. According to research, there are about 5-7 million long-distance caregivers in America. On average, long-distance caregivers tend to live about 450 miles away from their senior loved ones, while still providing social, emotional, and instrumental support multiple times per month.
Connecting remotely can be a powerful way for long-distance caregivers to keep in contact with their loved ones, while giving seniors the social support they need to thrive.
Looking for inspiration in the era of social distancing and quarantine? Here are five ways to stay closely in touch with your elderly loved ones, while staying remote:
Writing Letters By Hand
Many seniors grew up in a time when handwritten letters were the norm, not the exception. As a result, many older adults still love to send and receive postcards and notes to their friends and family.
Sending handwritten messages is a great way to bring two people closer together. There is something incredibly personal and intimate about getting a written letter delivered to your door. Every step of the process —picking out stationery, writing your message, sending it through the mail — requires care and attention. Using the mail can also be a great way to send news clippings, drawings, personal mementos, and little messages from the grandkids.
At the same time, research suggests that there may actually be some cognitive and memory benefits to writing out your thoughts by hand! Writing in longhand can also lead you to be more thoughtful about what you say, and may just help to make you happier and less stressed in the long run.
Email is a quick and convenient way to stay connected with friends and family from all over the country and around the globe. Compared to some other types of digital messaging, email has a fairly gentle learning curve, and many older adults are tech-savvy enough to pick it up in no time.
Email is also very accessible, and can be modified to suit your loved one’s needs. For example, if a senior has difficulty with talking or typing, they can use “speech to text” functionality to dictate their thoughts. Similarly, if they have trouble seeing or reading, most email platforms allow you to “hear” new messages spoken aloud. A senior companion can also be a great help. A companion can type out messages or use the computer on behalf of the senior, to make sure they can stay connected without any additional stress.
If your loved one is new to email, it may take some time to help them get set up with an account and password. You may need to introduce them to their inbox, and walk them through the steps of sending a message and attaching images or videos. Don’t hesitate to have a light conversation about email etiquette, too. Remind your loved ones not to open emails from senders they don’t know; give them tips about how to look out for scams and fraud; and be mindful if it seems like they are forwarding on lots of chain messages or spam.
Talking on the Phone
When you can’t be together in person, talking on the phone is often the next best thing. Chatting on the phone is a great way to stay connected to your elderly loved ones when you live at a distance. In emergency situations — such as storms, quarantines, or power outages — reaching out by phone is also one of the quickest and most effective ways to get in touch with your loved ones at a moment’s notice, whether you live across town or across the country.
Talking on the phone can also be folded into your loved one’s routine with ease. Try setting up a time to connect on a regular basis, based on your schedule. This might mean chatting for a few minutes every day, or making time for a longer call once or twice a week — whatever works best for you and your loved one. You can also use the phone as a launching point for enjoying time together remotely, from watching a movie together, to enjoying light conversation while “sharing” a meal.
Sending Care Packages and Cards
Little gifts and packages are a wonderful way to show a senior that you’re thinking of them, especially when you can’t be together in person.
During the coronavirus outbreak, for example, countless people have gotten in the habit of dropping off supplies — including food, cleaning supplies, and comforting messages — to housebound seniors in their communities. This can be a great practice, even when things are calm! Nothing brightens up a senior’s day like feeling seen and appreciated. Sending essential supplies as a care package or gift is also a great way to gently encourage your older loved ones to really use and appreciate their new food, clothing, and other essentials, instead of setting them on the shelf and forgetting about them.
Skype, Zoom, and FaceTime
If your elderly loved one is up to it, connecting by video call can be a great way to talk, laugh, and enjoy face-to-face time, even when distance keeps you apart. There are lots of services out there that can make it easy to virtually connect with friends and family, including Skype, FaceTime, and Zoom. There are also some accessible “smart” home devices that can make video calls easier.
Remember that it may take some time to help your elderly loved ones get set up and connected. Having a family member or a senior companion on hand in person can make it easier for the senior to log in, and manage any technical bugs as they come up, such as adjusting the microphone or camera. Be patient and flexible. Speak loudly and clearly, and give your loved one plenty of time to respond. Make eye contact and use your body language to show that you’re hearing and appreciating what the other person is saying. Try to hold video calls in an environment that is well-lit, and free of noise and other distractions.
When you can get video calls to work, the social benefits can be enormous. One prominent study demonstrated that older adults who regularly used video chat applications such as Skype and FaceTime “had almost half the estimated probability of depressive symptoms,” compared to older adults who only used social media or instant messaging. As Dr. Alan Teo, associate professor of psychiatry at Oregon Health and Science University explains it:
“The savvy use of technology and video chat that is as close to mimicking face-to-face contact as we can, that is the gold standard here… Quality time spent face to face with loved ones is one of best things we can do for our emotional health on a long-term, sustained basis.”
A Companion Can Help Your Senior Loved One Stay Social
When you can’t be there in person, bringing in a caring and considerate senior companion is often the next best thing. A companion can help give your elderly loved ones the emotional, social, and practical support they need to live an enriched and fulfilling life.
In addition to providing in-home care and non-medical support — including assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs), housekeeping, laundry, and exercise — a companion can be a true friend and confidant to your senior loved one, giving them company at mealtimes, when running errands, or when simply enjoying some quiet time at the end of the day.
The social benefits of having a reliable and trustworthy companion can be enormous. In fact, countless studies have demonstrated that older adults who are able to remain socially connected enjoy better overall mental and physical health, and even increased longevity. At the same time, a companion can be there to make sure your loved one is safe, healthy, and living life to the fullest.
Want to Keep the Conversation Going?
Curious about other ways to connect as a long-distance caregiver? Looking for a senior companion to help ensure that your senior loved one is able to remain social, connect with their community, and age in place safely? Companions for Seniors is here to help!
Our trained and bonded companions are passionate about empowering the elderly to live more independently. Our mission is to help senior adults lead active and enriched lifestyles, by connecting them with their community and helping them to nurture meaningful relationships.
Companions are available on flexible, accommodating schedules to spend time with the senior in your life. Whether your loved one needs transportation services, a helping hand around the house, or just a friendly face to play games and swap stories, our caregivers can help give your senior loved one the personalized attention and support they need – while giving family members a well-deserved chance to rest and recharge.
Have any questions? Curious about how to set up a personalized care plan for the aging adult in your life? Get in touch online or give us a call at 866-910-9020 to get the conversation started!