Help isolated seniors feel less alone during the stay-at-home order

  • Don't forget to check-in on your elderly neighbors and community members, either by phone or from a safe, 6-foot distance.

    Don't forget to check-in on your elderly neighbors and community members, either by phone or from a safe, 6-foot distance.

 
By Teri Dreher
Updated 4/5/2020 10:38 AM

Illinois' stay-at-home order is needed to slow the spread of COVID-19, but it's not easy, especially for our already isolated seniors.

Maybe you have a loved one in a nursing home who you're no longer permitted to visit. Or a neighbor or church member who lives alone without family support -- i.e., a senior orphan. Their social interactions are now even more restricted. Beyond loneliness, this lack of socialization may endanger their health.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Research has found that socially isolated seniors are at a higher risk of hypertension, heart disease and cancer, which leads to an earlier death. Chronic loneliness has been linked to increased depression and cognitive decline, including Alzheimer's disease.

Yes, everyone's situation is stressful right now. But theirs is undoubtedly worse. By finding creative ways to support and connect with isolated seniors in your orbit, you can give them the best possible gift right now.

How to connect with loved ones in nursing homes

If you have a parent in a nursing home or assisted living facility, your communication options are shaped by the facility's rules, as well as your parent's capabilities.

Does your parent have a cellphone? While you're undoubtedly making frequent phone calls, establishing a regular schedule will give them something to anticipate. Make the most of each conversation by planning upbeat topics -- and encourage them to try video chatting. Chances are, they'll love it.

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For those with hearing loss, there's never been a better time to get a captioned telephone. Available through various captioned phone providers, this service is free through the Federal Communications Commission when you can provide medical proof of a hearing impairment.

The Centers for Disease Control is recommending health care providers facilitate "alternative methods of visitation" right now. If your parent can't manage a tablet or laptop, see what the facility offers. You may be able to hold video chats through Zoom or Skype or share photos and notes through email and social media.

Finally, if the facility allows it (some don't), sending flowers, treats, books and cards is a nice way to keep loved ones feeling loved.

Support senior orphans while social distancing

Don't forget to check-in on your elderly neighbors and community members, too, either by phone or from a safe, 6-foot distance. By all means, encourage them to stay busy, keep moving, and remain positive. You might also offer to:

• Pick up their prescriptions.

• Grocery shop for them when you do your shopping (sanitizing items as you do your own).

• Set up a grocery delivery service on their behalf.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

• Supply them with newspapers, puzzles, books, DVDs, knitting supplies -- whatever they turn to for entertainment.

Such small gestures may mean more to a housebound senior than you'll ever know.

During these difficult days, a little kindness goes a long way. Furthermore, in helping others, we help ourselves. Practicing generosity is good for the spirit (and in turn, our immune systems!).

We will get through this -- especially by looking out for one another.

• Teri Dreher is a board-certified patient advocate. A critical care nurse for more than 30 years, she recently founded Seniors Alone Guardianship & Advocacy Services (SeniorsAlone.org), a not-for-profit organization that serves the area's senior orphans. She also is the founder of NShore Patient Advocates, www.northshorern.com.

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