Our parents and grandparents are among the most vulnerable group during this pandemic. More so during this period with the renewed tightening of restrictions. Those who are living apart from the families in their own homes or in nursing facilities may be feeling more isolated than ever before. Whether it’s our own family, neighbours or friends, older adults in our community need our attention right now.
Here are a few ways you can make a difference in their lives:
Minimize risk but stay connected
It’s sad that we have to limit time and contact for home or nursing home visits but we have to do this to protect their health. It’s imperative that we follow guidelines and make sure to wear protective gear when we visit them. And since we can’t be physically close, we need to strengthen our connection via virtual and other means to prevent them from feeling isolated. Connect via:
- Phone and video calls – Reach out regularly to check up on them. Update them about family or community events. Share a virtual meal on a video call. Give reminders like getting their flu shots (adults aged 65 and over are at a higher risk for flu complications), having regular exercise and ask if they are taking their medications regularly. Plan things to do with them once the pandemic is over. This will boost their mood and give them (and you) happy things to look forward to. Most importantly, listen to them. We all need to be heard and validated.
- Write letters – Bring back the art of letter-writing! Older adults will love reading long letters (I mean, who doesn’t?), especially those who are not too tech-friendly. It will give them something to cherish and re-read from time to time. Writing is a good mental exercise for them too if they choose to write back. Encourage your young ones to write and send their projects or artworks. These are guaranteed to end up on their grandma and grandpa’s fridge door to brighten up their day.
- Arrange care packages and deliver them from a distance – Send foodstuff, as well as puzzles, books, DVDs and games to keep them engaged (make sure to sanitize them before sending).
- Find alternative ways to celebrate events or milestones – Be creative in letting them know that you’re thinking of them on their birthdays or at Christmas. Try a car parade or put up festive signs in their yard. You can also arrange for a doorstep delivery of balloons, treats and flowers.
Meanwhile, parents or grandparents who are living with you also need extra care. Remind them to stay home and observe health protocols. Family members coming home should remember to sanitize themselves before being in close contact with seniors. We are all urged to keep within our bubble so let’s not receive visitors or hold gatherings at home for now.
Teach them tech
Technology will be their best tool during this pandemic. Updating their digital skills will help them discover that their smart gadgets are not only useful for chatting with their family and friends, these are also gateways for learning more (or new) skills, knowing about what’s happening in the world, engaging in dialogue, and finding many avenues for entertainment. It’s wonderful that your Nan knows how to look for her favourite songs on YouTube but wouldn’t it be great if she can share her knitting techniques to her Facebook or Pinterest Group or finally get into painting through a free course from Coursera?
A few tips when teaching tech:
- Be direct, don’t condescend – Don’t judge people for not knowing something about technology. Be patient if they get frustrated and listen to their concerns. Help them get over issues but never talk down to them. Explain things in detail, even the technical parts. It may help for them to know how things work to be able to use devices or applications better.
- Take into account prior knowledge – Relate your instructions to what they are familiar with. For example, you may use job-specific terms that they know so that they can understand concepts more clearly.
- Be open about physical limitations – They may have problems with small text or small buttons. Use accessibility features like screen magnifier and voice controls especially for smart phones.
- Give them confidence – Tell them that trying things out will not break the device. Encourage the hands-on approach so that they’ll know exactly how it feels to handle the gadget. Doing it this way will also help them remember better.
- Keep it relevant – Emphasize usefulness and let them know the practical application right away. This will keep them interested in learning and eager to try out things themselves.
- Encourage problem-solving – Teach them to use help tools or to search solutions online so that they won’t be dependent on you when something goes wrong.
- Teach good security habits – Teach them the importance of online security. Help them have good passwords and to be aware of common online scams and frauds.
Older adults may have trouble picking up groceries or prescription medicine especially during winter. You can do this for the seniors in your life or volunteer for others in the community if you have time (log on to Manitoba Help Next Door).
Older adults can also call 211 or 311 (for Winnipeg) directly if they need help for errands or go online to Manitoba 211 and click on the 55+ Older Adults icon to see other services that they can avail.
Sources: 8 ways to help your grandparents during the pandemic, Jackie Menjivar, Do Something.org; and 9 tips to teach your grandparents tech, Sydney Butler, Online Tech Tips; Lolly Daskal. Inc. Accessed November 17, 2020.
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