As social/physical distancing becomes the new normal, older adults are at risk of becoming more isolated than ever before. As many of us of take comfort in the company of our immediate family at home, plenty of older adults aren’t so lucky. In fact, over 26 percent of older Canadians live alone, and without regular visits from family and friends, they have been cut-off from the outside world. This separation can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation, which are both detrimental to overall health and well-being. Fortunately, there are some simple steps we can all take to stay connected to the ones we love when physical distancing keeps us apart.
The COVID-19 outbreak has disrupted our daily routines and caused a great deal of emotional distress. As people stay home wherever possible to save lives, being disconnected from the ones we love can add to that stress and anxiety, even though it’s for a very important reason. The Public Health Agency of Canada is advising people to stay home and practice physical distancing because it is, “proven to be one of the most effective ways to reduce the spread of illness during an outbreak.” Because older adults are in the higher risk category, physical distancing becomes even more important to people in this age demographic.
We still need to take care of each other and our older family members, neighbours and friends during this difficult time, but we might need to get a little more creative to do so! A few months ago you might have visited your grandmother to play a game of cards and catch up, but today you might do an online crossword together on the phone or through video chatting! As things change, we can adapt and find new, fun ways to stay connected. Here are a few simple strategies to stay together, even though we may be miles apart.
• Establish a good routine – People are creatures of habit and we all have things we look forward to; setting up a regular time to connect with your loved ones will help you stay in frequent contact. This is especially important for people who may be experiencing memory loss. So, no matter what form of communication you choose, setting the schedule ahead of time will help you stick to it.
• This probably goes without saying, but don’t forget to pick up the phone and check-in with your loved ones as often as possible. Phone calls have long been the best form of communication for families who live apart. When I was a kid we used to call my grandparents every Sunday at 6:00 p.m. (they lived in a small Manitoba town) and I was so excited as the clock ticked closer to our evening call. We’d spend an hour catching up and I would play something on the organ while they sang along. Sometimes people also need to talk through their anxieties and fears, so take the time to listen as much as you can.
• Use technology – more older adults are online than ever before, in fact, according to Statistics Canada, they represent the fastest growing segment of internet users across the country. A recent study looked at usage increase over a three-year period and found that 56 percent of adults aged 75-84 use the internet and 33 percent of adults over the age of 85 do too! Their device of choice? Mostly desktop computers or laptops, as only 18 percent of seniors aged 75+ reported owning a smartphone. So, if your loved one has an email address, a daily email is a great way to say good morning and let them know you care. You can also include links to some helpful sites, like the Shared Health information page on COVID-19.
• If they aren’t already online, connect them with CyberSeniors, an advocacy group that provides tech training to seniors through a network of trained youth mentors. They recently announced they are waiving their fees during this difficult time. They can even teach you how to do online grocery shopping. Please call 1-844-217-3057 for more information.
• Connect through social media – of those older adults who are online, 62 percent are on Facebook. Social media is a great way to share family photos and videos. If your loved one is new to Facebook, make sure they have the proper privacy settings on their account and know not to accept friend requests from people they don’t know. It’s a good rule of thumb to check in with the person who sent the request before accepting. For more information on Facebook for seniors, check out this article from The Senior List. https://www.theseniorlist.com/blog/facebook-tips-seniors/
• Play online games together – a great secure site for doing the daily crossword and other fun games is Reader’s Digest Canada. As a Beatles fan, my favorite game is Finish that Beatles Lyric! Other fun quizzes include, How Well Do You Know these Classic Leading Ladies of Hollywood? https://games.readersdigest.ca/
• Try out a video chat platform like Google duo, which works with multiple devices – According to their website, “Google Duo works on Android and iOS smartphones, tablets, computers, and Smart Displays, so you’ll never miss another moment with any of your friends and family.” So, if you have an iPhone and your loved one only has a computer, you can still video chat.
Here are some other links you might find helpful:
Information on Social Distancing – https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/diseases-conditions/social-distancing.html
A network of helpers coming together as a community – https://helpnextdoormb.ca/
Information on the Anxiety Disorders of Manitoba’s new Support Line – http://www.adam.mb.ca/blog/adam-s-new-support-line-info
Krystal Stokes is the Communications Manager at Victoria Lifeline, a community service of the Vic Foundation.