JFS Perspectives

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

5 Ways to Help Older Friends and Family Feel Connected During COVID-19

5 Ways to Help Older Friends and Family Feel Connected During COVID-19

During this unprecedented time, many of us feel disconnected. We’re stuck at home, separated from our friends and families – but aging adults have been disproportionately affected.

Not only are older adults at high risk of contracting COVID-19, but they’re also spending less time with their loved ones as they attempt to socially isolate and protect themselves. While isolation is the best way for older adults to stay physically safe, it can be mentally draining and might increase chances of feeling lonely or depressed.

As Secretary-General António Guterres, stressed “To get through this pandemic together, we need a surge in global and national solidarity and the contributions of all members of society, including older people.” Right now, your friends and family members over the age of 65 need your support more than ever.

Here are five big ways you can make a difference and help older generations stay more connected during the pandemic.

1. Teach Older Adults to Use Online Social Platforms

First things first: let’s get our aging friends online where they can connect with others and social distance at the same time.

Studies suggest over 70 percent of older adults are already using the internet, however, many of them might not be on the proper platforms that can help keep them feeling connected during tough times. We encourage you to talk to your older friends and family to see if you can help set up social accounts and download applications to stay in touch.

Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram can help aging adults feel more involved in their friends and family's lives as it allows them to see pictures of smiling faces and share in joyful moments. Video conferencing platforms like Zoom and FaceTime are also great resources that allow older adults to have a face-to-face conversation with their loved ones.

If you notice your older friends and family are feeling especially lonely and regular video calls aren’t helping, you might want to see if you can connect them with online therapy and counseling services. These services would also take place over video calls, so the more familiar aging adults are with technology, the better. We could all use a little extra help right now, and those of us who are extremely isolated need the most attention.

2. Help Them Pick and Choose the News They Consume

Right now, the news can be overwhelming for anybody, but especially for aging adults who may not know which sources to turn to or trust. Reading article after article about COVID-19 can actually make us feel less connected to the real world – rather than more involved.

According to psychology writer Nicole Lipkin on Forbes, cutting down on news updatescan be a great way to give your mind a break and avoid anxiety and depression. This doesn’t mean avoiding the news altogether, it just means we should monitor how much and what kind of news we’re intaking.

Talk to the older adults in your life about how they’re getting their news. If necessary, help them find a balance between staying informed and watching/reading too much panic-inducing, stressful media.

It might even be beneficial to set a time limit on how much news they watch or sign them up for limited notifications. Although it’s important for aging adults to know what’s going on in their communities, sometimes too much news does more harm than good.

3. Find Activities to Help Aging Adults Socialize

That’s why we recommend finding new ways to encourage socialization in aging care facilities and amongst your older friends and family. There are certainly opportunities to connect with others, without exposing them to COVID-19.

For example, you could encourage aging adults you know to:

  • Take online courses that help them embrace socialized activities (like cooking or crafting)
  • Participate in conference calls or video chats on a regular basis
  • Join online support groups for various struggles
  • Look into interest groups on Facebook and other social media platforms
  • Attend online game nights and other safe activities

Socialization doesn’t have to be done in person, especially if you’re a high-risk individual during this pandemic. Promote other opportunities for connection and growth amongst your older friends and family – they’ll thank you for it later.

4. Check on Those Close to You Daily

Remember to check-in on the aging adults in your life. A daily check-in is an excellent way to make sure your friends and family feel connected during the quarantine.

Social distancing doesn’t mean isolating emotionally from those who need us the most. Give your neighbor a call. Send that extra text to your aging uncle. Ask grandma if she needs any essentials or if she just wants to chat for a while.

The little moments of outreach to our high-risk aging friends mean a lot during these crazy times. As Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge of WHO stated, “Supporting and protecting older people living alone in the community is everyone’s business.

5. Pick a Pen Pal

Last, but not least, now is a perfect time to send grandma or grandpa a hand-written note. Include messages of love, support, and humor – even just filling them in on your daily activities can serve as a wonderful distraction.

Need some letter prompts? Try one of these:

  • Ask the recipient about their day/week to start a back-and-forth conversation
  • Share a funny or memorable story that will make the reader smile
  • Prompt aging adults to share their memories or stories from the past
  • Write about exciting events in the future, like trips or family get-togethers

If you don’t personally know an older adult who you’d like to write to, you can look into pen pal programs like the one we offer through Boulder JFS or speak with your local aging care facilities. There are dozens of ways to find someone to write to, and even a total stranger can appreciate a letter from a caring individual.

A little old-fashioned communication can go a long way during this strange, confusing time.

In Conclusion

There are many simple ways you can help the aging adults in your life feel less isolated and alone during the pandemic. At Jewish Family Service, we do our best to cultivate a community where all age groups can feel welcome and supported.

Right now, we’re offering mental health counseling online for older adults. JFS also offers several home-based aging care and support programs for those in need. During this pandemic, we’re doing everything we can to keep aging adults well fed, supported, and socialized.

If you want to learn more about our programs, call 720.248.4701 or email centralintake@jewishfamilyservice.org. To volunteer to help support older adults in our community, visit our volunteer page to get started today!