Your Aging Parents: Combating Loneliness During a Pandemic

Keeping your aging parents well today has never been more challenging. Not only is the elderly population most vulnerable to and at risk from COVID-19, but the very efforts employed to keep them safe may turn out to be just as harmful to Mom and Dad long term.

Loneliness and physical isolation have always been some of the greatest dangers our elderly have faced, and while every single one of us young or old has had to adapt to a more a socially-distanced lifestyle, a great many of our elderly were already coping with increased feelings of isolation long before the very necessary lockdowns of senior living facilities and eldercare centers.

Whether your parent(s) live in such a facility, attend classes at the local senior center, or they simply depend on your weekly in-home visit, it is imperative that we find alternate ways to make our aging parents feel less alone.

Below are some realistic ways to help your aging Mom or Dad feel a little more sunshine in their days:

1. Increase the number of phone calls you make to your parent(s)
I promise, you cannot call your elderly parent too many times for their liking. While you’re at it, get in touch with family members and enlist their help too. Mom and Dad should have someone to speak to every single day, if possible. Face-to-face phone calls via FaceTime or Google Duo, depending on whether Mom or Dad has a cell phone or tablet and whether it’s iOS or Android, can help you both feel even more connected.
You may also want to sign your folks up with the Institute on Aging’s Friendship Line, an accredited, 24-hour national service that reaches out by phone to check on and chat with people over 60. Volunteers are also crisis counselors, so make sure this phone number is in a place your parent can easily find, should they be feeling low.

2. Bring back letter writing
Start an email correspondence with your own parent(s). Better yet, add in some snail mail, too. Discount stores with “dollar” in the name sell stationery and cards at very little cost. Pop a card in the mail once a week and let Mom or Dad know just how often they’re thought of.

3. Sign up for streaming services
Watch a movie with your folks using Netflix’s Party service. You could even set up a movie night for the entire family, no matter how many miles keep you all apart. While you’re at it, make sure Mom and Dad have easy access to other streaming services you think they may enjoy, including Audible.

4. Utilize the online library
There’s nothing like a good book to transport the mind and spirit, and your local library is but a few keystrokes away. Help Mom and Dad learn how to borrow e-books and audiobooks for free.

5. Download Zoom
Where would we all be in 2020 were it not for Zoom? (There are other virtual meeting platforms, but Zoom is still the simplest to use when you want to gather several people together, all at one time. Plus, it’s free for most personal uses.) While this service was originally intended and used for remote seminars and collaborations within the business sector, its usability has kept friends and families together since the very start of quarantine. I know of families who “gather” together to eat meals, enjoy birthday parties, and even to celebrate religious holidays. Depending on the age and abilities of your parent, they may even be able to host their own gatherings.

6. Get outside (with care and caution)
This idea won’t work for everyone, but perhaps there’s an outdoor, low-impact exercise class offered where your folks live? If your parents live in assisted care and there is no such offering, make the suggestion. If your folks are still mobile, help them find a safe place near home to sit outside and take in the scenery. If they need an outdoor patio set or a bench to make this a reality in their own outdoor space, help them locate what they need. We all need a little fresh air and vitamin D to stay well.

I hope these ideas can be of help to you and your aging parents. Now more than ever, listen carefully to what your parent says (or doesn’t say) to you when you are in touch. Listen for signs that your parents are getting enough nourishment and that they have safe delivery of groceries available to them. If they insist on getting out on their own, help Mom and Dad locate the seniors’ shopping hours at their local grocery store so that they may stay as safe as possible while remaining active.

For even more ideas on navigating the waters of eldercare—even if you’re still raising children at home—please get in touch.

Stay well.

All the best,

Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.

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