These uncertain times have inspired many acts of kindness and generosity among family, friends and neighbors, particularly toward the elderly, a group considered high-risk for coronavirus complications.
For the past couple weeks, most senior citizens have been staying home and not having any visitors on the advice of health officials.
While the new social distancing rules are preventing children from visiting their grandparents and other elderly relatives and neighbors, there are many other ways parents can keep their children connected to the older generation.
“For grandparents who live locally, along with their extended families, social distancing presents a new set of challenges and opportunities to come up with ideas to engage in meaningful communication, especially when it involves grandchildren,” said Louise Haraczka, Deputy Director, Jefferson County Office for the Aging.
Parents can continue to plan activities for their children to do with grandparents or other elderly relatives and neighbors – they just have to find creative ways to connect with each other.
These can include phone calls and video chats through resources such as FaceTime and Skype. In fact, many grandparents who live long distances from their grandchildren may already be using technology to keep in touch on a regular basis.
Another benefit of keeping up a regular schedule of time together with their grandchildren is that it gives senior citizens “something to look forward to during the week,” Ms. Haraczka said.
Some planned activities that can still be done – and viewed on a phone or computer screen – include reading books or doing crafts together. This would be a great time for grandparents and grandchildren alike to even show off their favorite dance steps, she said.
The two generations could share stories about how they’re handling being at home and away from friends and family, and what they are looking forward to most when life starts to return to normal.
“This is a great time for grandparents to talk to their grandchildren about life before iPhones, microwaves, Velcro or all the other inventions that have changed the way we go about our daily lives,” Ms. Haraczka added.
Pinterest is a helpful source for finding crafts to complete together, including decorating Easter eggs for the upcoming holiday. Or “lunch dates” could be set up for children and grandparents via Skype or Facetime on a regular weekly schedule.
Anyone interested in sending a general greeting for senior citizens via the Office for the Aging Facebook page may try that as well, she said.
But not all senior citizens are using the latest technology to stay in touch with their families and friends. Sometimes a simple phone call would go a long way in making them feel connected, particularly if they live alone.
“For older adults, especially those who do not have a strong family or community support system in place, these are difficult times,” said Ms. Haraczka. “So if you have older adult neighbors, it’s a good idea to call them.”
The Lewis County Office for the Aging is also encouraging children to speak on the phone with their grandparents, providing an opportunity for both generations to share information about their day, said Director Crystal Collette.
“Our primary concern about social isolation is how it affects the mental and physical health of seniors,” she said “We’re most concerned now that seniors are being directed to stay home, and we’re trying to find creative ways to help seniors feel socially and spiritually connected.”
The Offices for the Aging in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties have closed their congregate meal sites and switched to home delivery. But for many senior citizens throughout the north country, those meal sites not only provided a nutritious lunch, but also socialization, something particularly important for seniors who live alone, Ms. Collette said.
“For many north country seniors, their families live in other parts of the country,” she said. “Getting out to the meal sites helped keep seniors healthy and active, and engaged in conversation with other people.”
Having children make a phone call or even write a letter to their grandparents, elderly relatives or neighbors is “a good lesson for our kids to feel engaged” in an effort to make others feel better during these challenging times, she said.
(One bonus – writing letters is an activity that parents can incorporate into their new homeschool lesson plans, giving children a chance to work on spelling, grammar and sentence structure).
The Lewis County Office for the Aging will accept hand-written letters, notes, cards or even drawings for senior citizens who are living alone, Ms. Collette. They will be distributed with the home-delivered meals that are being distributed throughout the county.
If interested, the letters may be sent to the Lewis County Office for the Aging, P. O. Box 193, Lowville, N.Y. 13367. A note on the back of the envelope should be marked “Card for Senior.”
“It’s an intergenerational win/win situation,” she added.
Staying in contact with loved ones through resources such as Skype, Zoom and Facetime is “incredibly important,” for senior citizens, said Andrea Montgomery, Director, St. Lawrence County Office for the Aging.
“Phone calls are also a great way to stay in touch right now,” she said. “Daily if possible, for families.”
In St. Lawrence County, the office is starting a Telephone Reassurance Program for outreach to older adults “to combat loneliness, depression and isolation,” she said.
Staff members and volunteers will call clients on a weekly or twice a week basis to check in and have a friendly conversation. Anyone interested in signing up for the program can call our office at (315) 386-4730.