Connecting Older Adults during Social Distancing Directives

They say challenging times bring out the best in people.  Anyone who has tried to buy toilet paper recently may disagree with that statement.  In a broader sense, however, we see evidence this is true.  Neighors are reaching out on Nextdoor social media offering to purchase groceries and run errands for older neighbors; teachers are providing nonperishable food to low income students while schools are closed, and most importantly, the majority of Americans are following guidelines for social distancing.Nevertheless, social isolation can bring problems of its own.  If you have a family member living in a nursing care, assisted living or memory support community you may especially be feeling that isolation. Fortunately, readily available technology can aide in alleviating some of the loneliness and anxiety about your loved one while helping to build community at the same time.

There are multiple free or very low cost ways to connect with loved ones through technology.  The most obvious and lowest tech one is the phone.  A daily phone call can not only make your family member feel important, but it is a good way to check up on their mental wellbeing.

Older adults who live in a community can benefit from team members helping them connect via technology with family.  If a resident is not comfortable using platforms like Skype or FaceTime to video chat with loved ones, Life Enrichment Coordinators can help them make the video calls.  Additionally, The Retreat at Sunny Vista utilizes the OneDay phone application.  This is a video sharing app that enables team members to record short videos of residents’ life stories or daily activities and send them directly to family.  They can also share the video to social media when appropriate.

Social media is an excellent way to stay connected. Instagram and Facebook are great visual means for sending messages to isolated family members but consider some of the other options too.  In 2018, Facebook launched Watch Parties.  A Watch Party is a way to connect and watch an event, program or video with other people and chat via the app.  Recently, churches have used Watch Parties or YouTube live to connect worshippers with compromised immune systems with their fellow congregants.  There are also Facebook Groups that focus on common interests, hobbies and discussion topics.  With a little set up and help, older adults can participate and feel they are a part of a much larger community.

​Finally, help our older adults find purpose in this time of social distancing.  Hopefully , this restricted access to assisted living and memory support communities will be short and our family members and loved ones can be back to their normal engaging routines.  In the meantime, there are benefits to short periods without distractions. Here are things we can all do to help.  Write cards and send to your local senior living community.  Have children draw pictures and send letters to residents; they may even get a response letter.  The Retreat at Sunny Vista is encouraging residents to start seedlings by providing them pots and seeds to grow in their apartments and many similar creative outlets. It is said that great creativity is a bi-product of such times.

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