If someone you love is in a care home, you know the importance of regular contact. You’ve seen the look of joy on your mother’s face when you walk in. You know how your father lights up the room with happiness when you hug him hello.
Even though he may have forgotten who you are, he knows you’re someone special, and he knows you have come specially to see him. Yes, sometimes your heart breaks a little when you visit your loved ones, but nonetheless you wouldn’t miss that connection for the world.
Yet in these troubling times, keeping distant from your relatives is exactly what you must do – for their own safety. How can you continue to maintain that vital link with your older relatives, fostering and perhaps even furthering your relationship?
The Benefits of Communication
Family relationships are of immeasurable importance both to the elderly and to those who love them. Isolation and loneliness, common problems among the elderly, have been linked to declines in physical health. Among other dangers, a lack of social interaction is associated with a weakened immune system, a greater likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease and a decline in cognitive ability.
Compounding the physical issues is a heavy emotional toll. Loneliness often results in depression and social anxiety.
So it’s only natural to be worried about your relatives – and it’s natural to be worried that they’re worried and perhaps confused. But if there’s anything COVID-19 has taught us, it’s how to find creative solutions to problems we never thought we’d have to face. There are good options that can keep you in contact with your loved ones until life goes back to normal.
How to Stay in Touch with Your Elderly Relatives
Of course, nothing can take the place of a face-to-face visit. Anyone with a family member in a care home knows the vital importance of a touch on the hand, a smile, a hug. Both of you treasure that physical contact.
But now, with social distancing measures in place, this option is closed to us. We understand intellectually that these measures are good and necessary, but that knowledge doesn’t ease our concern. However, with a little creativity and effort, there are ways you can maintain and in some ways even improve communication, benefitting you and your loved ones in the long term.
Take advantage of technology. We are lucky to live in an age when there are so many good communication technologies available: texting, email, social media and phone calls, as well as Skype and FaceTime video calls, can keep you involved in one another’s lives. Dad might not know what an app is, but he’ll certainly enjoy one in action.
You’ll want to tailor these according to the capabilities and understanding of your relative, of course. If Mum has dementia, for example, she might find a Skype or FaceTime video call disorienting. Or… she might not; she could find the experience an unexpected but delightful adventure. Coordinate with her care home to explore this.
Don’t sneer at the old-fashioned phone call, either, if that’s what Dad’s more comfortable with.
Go old school and write a letter. This will likely thrill your older relatives, who remember and can now relive the excitement of receiving letters in the post. Paper gives you a lot of unique options as well: include children’s artworks, photos, and other mementos. You can send such things electronically too, of course, but your mum will value being able to actually physically hold evidence of your love for her. (Keep in mind, though, that if there’s any chance you’ve been in contact with someone who has the coronavirus, you should stick to electronic communication. It’s unlikely but possible that the virus can be transmitted via paper.)
Get creative. ‘How are you?’ is a good start, but it’s only a start. Your dad wants to tell you about his day. Your mum wants to savor the sound of your voice, even if you’re only talking about what went wrong with the Yorkshire pudding recipe you tried.
If you have children, get them involved in talking to Granddad. If it’s a video call, bring the dog into the picture. (And the cat, if she’ll allow it.)
If, because of dementia or other reasons, it’s difficult to sustain a virtual conversation, use visual and audio aids. Go through an old photo album, perhaps, from days gone by, or play the music Dad loved in his youth.
It’s the Message, Not the Medium
It doesn’t really matter what mode of communication works best for your family. The important thing is to employ it regularly. And fundamentally it doesn’t really matter what you talk about. The important thing is the message you’re sending: I love you, I miss you, I will see you soon.