A woman aged in her mid-eighties and who lives by herself at home recently shared with me how she was coping with the COVID-19 social distancing practices. She said at her stage of life, whether it’s for one month or six, any time away from her family and friends is extremely difficult to deal with.
Unfortunately, her story isn’t unique. Even before COVID-19, too many older Australians were struggling with social isolation and loneliness.
People are doing everything they can to support older relatives through these difficult times. On top of managing the demands of having kids at home, working from home, and potentially living far away from an older family member, all of it can easily become overwhelming.
Having worked with families of all ages as a registered nurse and now at The Benevolent Society, I wanted to share some simple ideas about how to support your older parent, friend or relative during these enormously challenging times.
How parents can support older friends and family during COVID-19
Listen then act
You know your loved one, what they value and what they need. Many people value their independence and find comfort in trying to keep life as ordinary as possible during the current climate. Try to have an open and relaxed conversation about how you are going to get through the social distancing restrictions together. People value a sense of purpose, doing things for themselves, so this conversation is about balancing that with where your support is really needed.
Agree on a few things that you’ll help with, and make them a routine so it becomes the new norm for the time being. This could be doing the weekly grocery shop, picking-up their regular medication from the pharmacy or mowing their lawn (adhering to all social distancing advice of course).
A daily phone call to your older loved one can make a huge difference to keeping their spirits up and ease any feelings of loneliness that they may be experiencing, even if it’s just a quick chat in the morning. Checking-in regularly should also give you a sense of how they are coping. Getting your kids involved in the conversation is also a good idea – have them share stories about their day, it can provide a positive distraction.
If you have a good relationship with your older relative’s neighbours, a good idea is to give them a call to see if they can check in with your family member from time-to-time (adhering to social distancing rules of course). Having that kind of support for you and your loved one can be invaluable, particularly if you’re busy with the kids or don’t live nearby.
Help with technology
If you have the means available, and your friend or family member is able, provide them with a device already set-up with Apps like FaceTime or Skype. If they aren’t familiar with this kind of technology, write down some instructions or talk them through it.
Being able to see each other’s face when you communicate helps maintain a sense of close connection, some normality. Also, it’s a good idea to speak with their telco to see if they are on the best rate for their landline, mobile phone and broadband.
Find additional support available
There are many fantastic services to assist older Australians, which can be a great support to you if you need it. For example, local Meals on Wheels or The Benevolent Society, where I work, provide a range of home support services.