Being socially isolated even more than normal can be extremely tough for older Australians at this time, particularly those living in aged care. Mental health can take a hit during this time of restrictions and lockdowns, as aged care residents may no longer be able to socialise and engage with others. In most cases, family are unable to visit, and residents are unable to even socialise much with each other. Things can become very lonely, which is not an ideal situation for both the physical and mental health of older people.
It’s important to still be able to support loved older people through the loneliness and boredom that may be caused by enforced social isolation. While you may not be able to visit your friend, family member or neighbour in an aged care residence at the moment, there’s still plenty you can do to stay connected.
Connect the old-fashioned way
Write a letter
Bring back the nearly forgotten art of letter writing, and write a letter to your elderly relative or friend. Current aged care residents are from the era where letter writing was a regular and usual part of social interaction, so they’ll enjoy hearing from you in this way. Sending a letter or card doesn’t take much effort, but will be greatly appreciated by the recipient. Encourage your children to write short notes as well, or send drawings or artwork they have made.
Become a penpal
Even if you don’t know anyone in an aged care facility, you can still offer to write to an elderly resident or become a penpal. This could be a great project for school-aged children cooped up at home. Aged care residents around the world have been thrilled when local school children have started sending letters to them – and many write back. It’s a lovely way to help elderly people feel more connected to the rest of the world at this time.
Send a small gift
It doesn’t have to be expensive, but a small, thoughtful gift might mean the world to an elderly person living in isolation. It shows they haven’t been forgotten, and you’re thinking specifically of them. Send their favourite chocolates, flowers, a book you think they’d like or whatever gift you choose, just to boost their morale and let them know you are still thinking of them.
You may not be able to see your elderly loved one in person, but you can still send photos of family events or happenings to keep them in the loop and engaged. They don’t have to be professionally printed – just print them on your home printer, pop them in an envelope with a note and post. This is especially helpful for older people who are not comfortable using technology to send and receive photos.
Pick up some library books
If the aged care facility allows and if libraries are open, offer to pick up some library books for your friend or relative and drop them off at the facility (once they have been suitably sanitised, of course). They will probably appreciate something new to read – as well as your thoughtfulness.
Use technology to connect
Call via Skype, Zoom or FaceTime
There are so many different ways to video call these days – and they’re all fairly simple to use. There’s nothing like actually being able to see someone’s face when you talk to them. Most aged care providers can help set up video links on computers or phones, and will be able to help older people manage the technology so that you can call them. This will provide much-needed connection for residents with their loved ones, and will boost their mood and improve their mental health during this time of lockdown.
Finley Regional Care can help facilitate a phone or videoconferencing hook-up with your relative or friend between the hours of 10am and 4pm from Monday to Friday. To book an allocated time, call Finley on (02) 5504 6508 and speak to administration.
Watch a movie together
If your elderly loved one enjoys watching movies, offer to watch one together through video conferencing. Even though you’re not actually in the same room, and may not be interacting much, it creates a sense of companionship and helps people not to feel so alone. Plus, you can comment on the movie, laugh or cry together – it’s all part of the experience of watching a movie with someone. Let them choose their favourite movie, or pick one you think they’ll like and stream it to your devices for your own little watch party. If they’re struggling to sort out the technology, arrange this first with a member of the aged care facility staff.
Have dinner together
Similarly, invite your elderly loved one to lunch or dinner – via videoconferencing. You can enjoy a meal together yet separately, and your loved one can participate in the dinner table chat. They’ll probably enjoy seeing your meal, and interacting with the family, and just feeling part of your lives. As above, arrange this with a member of the facility staff first if your elderly friend or relative doesn’t have or can’t work the technology.
Look through photo albums together
Older people generally love looking through photo albums – and children often enjoy seeing how everyone looked back in the day as well. Look through an old album virtually and enjoy the stories your loved one can share.
Make a personal video
Your older friend or relative will love it if you make a personal video greeting just for them. You might be able to get all your family members to say a quick hello or send a personal message, or show something they’ve been working on etc. Whatever you choose to do, it will help them continue to feel a part of your life during this time – and that’s priceless. Either email the video to them, or send it through the aged care facility so that they can share it with your loved one.
Have a virtual game night
Get together with your family and elderly relative or friend online and divide up in teams to play a trivia game or something similar. It’s a great way to have some family fun and stay connected – and you might just learn a thing or two as well!
Loan them some tech – and teach them how to use it
If possible, and if they don’t have one already, loan your elderly friend or relative a piece of technology they can use to stay connected, such as an iPad. Give them instructions on how to use it (writing them down helps) or ask a member of staff to show them if your facility is not allowing in-person visits. If they know how to and are confident using the technology themselves, they’re much more likely to use it, and will be able to stay connected much more easily.
However you decide to stay in touch, just make sure you do something regularly. Thoughtful communication can help sustain the long-distance relationships we now have with our elderly friends or relatives, and make this isolation period a whole lot easier.