This COVID crisis has impacted us all, but perhaps no single group has been harder hit than our elderly and senior relatives and friends. Our parents and grandparents are at the same time both at the most risk, and also the most isolated by this virus.
We’ve all had to adjust to changes in the workplace, school closures, and physical distancing guidelines. While life isn’t exactly back to normal, most of us are finding our footing and navigating this new world as best we can. Work from home arrangements have been made, many businesses have returned to operations (if under some new precautions and standards), and the younger generations, who are more electronically connected than ever, are at least enjoying virtual social lives through messenger apps and online games.
For many elderly people though, these past few months have represented a total loss to their access to the outside world. Those who don’t drive and depended on public transportation or rides with family and friends are suddenly without a means to travel. And where would they travel to? They are constantly told (and with good reason) to avoid any unnecessary exposure with others and to stay away from any public place. Our elderly are often not as comfortable with technology as the younger generations and can’t even resort to digital camaraderie to keep their spirits up.
That’s why it is up to us. We need to take special care to ensure that our elderly loved ones are cared for and protected physically and emotionally during this international crisis.
Staying connected but safe
The sad fact is many leading health experts anticipate several more months of lock down conditions. These past four months have felt like an eternity already and we don’t even know if we’re at the halfway point yet. If you find that demoralizing and sad, imagine how our elderly, who have been even more isolated and bored during this crisis, must feel.
It’s good that many elderly are heeding warnings and are minimizing their exposure. But isolation can also be an insidious health threat, one that can lead to depression, an early decline in cognitive function, and eventually will result in more virus transmissions as fed up seniors eventually ignore the dangers in favor of a return to normalcy. The best way to keep our seniors healthy is with regular, safe, communication.
Phone calls are a great start. A daily check-in, even a short one, can do wonders for raising spirits and ensuring that no one feels forgotten or abandoned. If they are technologically inclined, email messages can be a fast, easy way of keeping up a dialog throughout the day, and video calls are even better. A few minutes saying hi to the grandkids face-to-face can make a big difference to a senior who has been stuck inside staring at the same walls all day.
In person visits are also a major help, provided safety steps are taken. Outdoor visits where everyone can maintain a minimum 6-foot distance from each other are ideal. For some seniors who have poor hearing, talking from a distance like that (especially though masks) may be difficult, but that can be worked through with pocket hearing aids and patience. Even if you need to raise your voice a bit to be heard, a noisy visit is better than no visit at all.
One thing that is not being discussed in the broader coverage of the virus is just how frightening this has been for many seniors. This has been a major upset in their lives and the prevailing message has been "just wait it out.” For how long? For those who just started retirement, this virus has been a nasty joke. Finally, free to enjoy long relaxing days with friends and family, instead they’ve been confined and trapped in their own homes.
That’s why it’s so important for us to help them stay positive. While during a visit or conversation with an elderly relative or friends its only natural to talk about the virus and what’s going on, don’t let it be the thing you dwell on. Do your best to keep the conversation fun and looking towards a hopeful future.
Wherever possible, find things you can share. Start a mini book club by reading the same book and discussing it together. Share movies and TV shows you like. With plenty of time on their hands, now is a great time to catch up on some shows they never got around to before! Bring a portable speaker to your next outdoor visit and play some old favourite tunes, especially those related to good memories (songs played at family weddings, concerts they once attended, favorite bands), whatever will help them stop thinking about how scary and uncertain things are now and help them smile.
A great way to keep things positive is to encourage safe long-term projects for the elderly in your life. There has never been a better time to keep a garden, get back into painting, stitch a quilt, or do some woodworking. Having something productive to spend time on every day can be both a great distraction and something positive to look forward to in the future. Rather than just a slog of similar days for the foreseeable future, they can look forward to finishing a project and having something to be proud of. It’s an easy conversation piece too, all you need to do is ask "how is your garden coming along” and it’s off to the races!
Pray for them and with them
One of the most dangerous parts of this pandemic has been the loss of spiritual connection. With churches closed or people deciding not to risk attending, there has been a loss of spiritual connection in the community. If our elderly friends and relatives can’t go to church, it’s up to us to be the church. Take time to pray for your loved ones and take time to pray with them. Don’t be afraid to suggest singing a hymn or two with them, or reading a few Psalms.
In John 13:35, Jesus says that "everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” That’s the love we need to show right now to get everyone, young and old, through this pandemic.