How to Help Older People Stay Connected During Isolation

Isolation is very hard for older people within our communities. You can help.

Posted Mar 27, 2020

 iStock
Source: iStock

It’s going to a difficult few weeks and months for everyone while the world battles with coronavirus. For most of us, it is a challenge, but not comparable to the work that our medics, nurses, paramedics, and all other front line staff are undertaking. Whenever you begin to feel sorry for yourself, think of them.

Isolation is also very hard for older people within our communities. Many of them are already isolated without the virus, while others are lucky enough to have family around them. But now their movements are severely restricted, and family cannot visit as before, so the feeling of isolation and loneliness can become unbearable for many older people.

So what can you do to help, even if you cannot be there as you used to be?

Providing essential food and medicine

Firstly, ensure that older people are getting the essential food and medicine they need. If you can, buy it for them and leave it on their doorstep. If they cannot lift the bags themselves, sanitise your hands before entering and take the bags into the kitchen. If the older person can put them away, please let them do so, but if not, you do so, after washing your hands before and after the process. Remind the person to whom you are delivering the shopping to do the same.

Keep two metres away from the older person at all times and do not accept offers of tea or coffee. You can still chat from the doorstep—as long as you remain two metres apart—or through an open window at the same distance.

If your older relative or friend receives a regular prescription, ask the pharmacist to deliver it to them directly to their home if possible. Again, remind your older relative to wash their hands after unwrapping any packaging.

Keep in regular contact

Even if you cannot visit in person, you can make contact with your older relative on a regular basis. If your relative is technically able, use Skype or FaceTime to hold video chats. You can also email regularly. This way they can see you and your family—and you can see how well they are looking too.

If they don’t like mobile phones or tablets, just ring them up by traditional phone as often as you can.

And why not write letters? It may seem old fashioned, but everyone likes to receive post. Include some photos which you can print off your computer, or send them via a photo provider. You can also make photo books of old photographs for them to enjoy.

Remind your older relative to wash their hands thoroughly after opening their post or any parcels.

Exercise

Depending on how mobile your older relative is, it’s essential to keep moving as much as possible, even if it’s simple chair exercises. Diana Moran, the Green Goddess—now aged 80—is back giving us all top tips to keep moving and the NHS also have some good basic moves to try. Even better, if possible, encourage your older relative to walk up and down stairs more often - if they have them - or to try Pilates or yoga to keep stretching and moving at home.

Entertainment

Make a list of TV shows you think your relative might enjoy and share them in your daily chats. If they have access to Sky or Netflix, they will have plenty of old films to choose from, as well as music channels. Don’t forget radio programmes as well and YouTube can provide hours of entertainment.

If your older relative is interested in arts and crafts, now might be a good time to encourage them to draw, sew, knit or make cards. You can send craft materials through the post.

You can also play games with them on the internet, or even do a quiz on the phone.

Reading is another great way to pass the time and many older people find Kindles an excellent way to read rather than traditional books, as they can vary the font size and the lighting. If they don’t have one, it might be a great idea to get one for them and load it with a few books that you think they might like.

Podcasts are another great way to stay entertained, particularly if your older relative has trouble reading.

Spring cleaning

Being stuck in the house is a good opportunity to clear out the cupboards, so if your older relative is fit enough, suggest that they do so. Or maybe they can sort out their paperwork, or go through old photos which they have been meaning to look at for a long time and have not got around to doing.

Reducing anxiety

The current climate is making all of us anxious, but if your older relative is struggling, there are a number of things they can try to do to keep calm.

Breathing techniques are very helpful, such as the ones recommended by the NHS. Apps such as Headspace can also be useful, as can autogenic meditation to help them get to sleep.

Distraction is also important. If we dwell on what worries us, the problem multiplies. If we try to think of other things, or engage in other activities, the mind can be occupied in other ways and anxiety lessened.