My sister-in-law visited her 95-year-old mom in an assisted living every single day over the past two years. These visits were not an expression of guilt, obligation, or lack of trust in the care of the facility. Rather, they were a tangible reflection of the deep love, respect, and friendship this pair shared for as long as I can remember. Maxine has not been able to see Mom since March 8, 2020.

Social isolation among the elderly, in general, and during COVID-19, specifically, can have a similar negative impact on a person’s well being as a serious medical diagnosis. Consider this:

Linda‘s mom is living independently. Since their state’s stay-at-home mandate has taken effect, both mother and daughter haven’t seen each other, as they are equally and understandably fearful of a face-to-face visit. Although Mom was not savvy with technology, she did know how to Facetime with Linda so they could connect that way. However, after a short while in quarantine, Mom can no longer figure out the steps needed to Facetime. Now, Linda and her mom still speak daily by phone, but Linda has observed a progressive slide in short-term memory recall and her mom’s increased confusion with each call.

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Helping your loved one stay connected and engaged

Linda’s experience is not unique. The anxiety of living with social isolation coupled with the inability to celebrate events like weddings, graduations, and birthdays or come together to share grief over our losses, only increases the risk for negative physical, mental, and emotional impacts.

Staying connected and engaged with people and activities can help boost their spirits and reduce the stress and sadness of being alone and detached from those we love. Depending on your comfort level, available resources (both human and financial), geographic location, and mental acuity of the elder, here are some tips for helping seniors enjoy a better quality of life:

  • Stay connected through whatever level of technology is available and manageable (Zoom, Facetime, telephone, even old-fashioned letter writing!)
  • Listen compassionately to what may sound like complaining. The complaining is often a behavior that masks anxiety, depression, fear, and loss. Be willing to have difficult conversations about those feelings. Feel equally free to share your own feelings of sadness, frustration, and even hope.
  • Consider doing drive-by greetings or joining others for walks outside as long as you follow required or recommended safety precautions.
  • Initiate conversations (or encourage caregivers to do so) with the elderly person about their life. Check out agingcare.com  for Conversations Starters: 20 Questions to Ask Elderly Parents and other helpful resources.
  • Play music and encourage them to dance (as safely as possible!). It’s a great physical activity and mood booster.
  • Keep in touch with elderly friends and neighbors by making a daily phone call. This quick check-in doesn’t take much time out of your day, yet yields great benefits.
  • Give the elderly person access to independent activities such as solitaire, crossword puzzles, and jigsaw puzzles. They are great ways to keep the mind busy and sharp.
  • Help them work on craft projects—either resurrect an old hobby they love or introduce something new.
  • Create Sensory Trays to help seniors unlock memories, initiate conversation, and relax.
  • Find other great activity ideas at https://stayingsharp.aarp.org/about/brain-health/games-play/

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