Supporting older adults during isolation,
what can you do to help?

Social connection is important for people of all ages, but now with the new recommendations of people over the age of 60 to stay home, older adults need connection more than ever. Most of our older Australians live alone, in an aged care facility or with a partner and used to rely on their outings to socialise with others.

The virus has brought a cloud of uncertainty and fear, with many of us not knowing when things will return to normal. So with face-to-face interactions discouraged for those over 60, we need to develop creative strategies to keep their spirits high and help them feel connected.

Here are some ways to safely stay connected with older family members, friends and neighbours:

Help with food and medication

While the supermarkets have set up a dedicated hour just for the elderly and people with disability to do their shopping, for some they are unable to get there at that time or are too scared to leave the house. If you know you’re going to do a shop let your older family or neighbours know and see if there’s anything they need while you’re there.

Some may need to get to the pharmacy for their medication so you could offer to pick up what they need or call the pharmacy to see if they are offering delivery. If they are anything like my grandfather they may also forget to take their medication, so make sure to give them a call and remind them every few days.

Communication is key

With most of us working from home and with more children doing online schooling there may be more to juggle, yet it is still important that we check up on our older family and friends at least daily. You may have a neighbour or an older adult in your street that lives alone, as a family you could ‘adopt a family member’ during this time and check in on them regularly, being included and thought of is important for many of us. As a household you could take it in turns to call an older family member and see how they’re going. Most of  us (yes including the older adults) have smartphones so get creative, have a coffee or tea in the morning together over facetime, stand in their front yard and talk to them from a few metres away or once a week have dinner over video call.

There’s also an opportunity for us to learn from them and teach them new things. The grand children or younger adults could teach their older family and friends to use technology that is new to them e.g. setting them up on Netflix or Zoom. Children and younger adults could use this as a great time to listen to stories or advice from older adults. One of the best things I ever did was listen to my grandfather’s stories from WWII and growing up post war. We recorded all of his stories and put a scrap book together.

Plan ahead

There are many of us that will be celebrating events such as birthdays, ANZAC Day and Easter a little differently this year. With that in mind look ahead and see what events you have coming up or think about the events that might mean a lot to our older friends who are self-isolating. For example, if your family celebrate Easter or you know that your neighbours celebrate it, find a way to still make it special. You could have a family lunch via video call or leave an Easter egg at their door. Or if going to church on Easter is meaningful to you, or the older adults in your life there are lots of churches and free to air news channels that will be live streaming services online.

If someone has a birthday coming up there are many ways to make them feel special without coming in contact with them or make them feel like part of the celebrations even if they can’t physically be there. A staff member here at RANSW over the weekend had all their family form a 7 car convoy which drove past the house of an older relative singing happy birthday to celebrate with them. Other ideas include, setting up a video call so you can ‘virtually’ cut a cake together, make them their favourite meal and leave it at their door or sending a present and card and watch them open it virtually.

Encourage them to find hobbies/activities

For many older adults, their adult children and grandchildren give meaning to their lives and with regular contact being taken away this could really affect them. Ways to improve this is encouraging them to do activities they love or an activity that is something they have never done before. You could encourage older family members or neighbours to join an online book club to help them pass time during isolation and keep their mind active – this website offers a few online book clubs: https://celadonbooks.com/online-book-clubs/. You could also start a family book club and meet virtually once every few weeks. This is not only a great way to keep up regular communication but gives everyone a chance to take their mind off what is going on around them and discuss something which isn’t the news.

Also encourage them to do activities they love or ask them to do something for you. I went and visited my grandmother (I stood in her driveway while she was behind the door) and I told her the garden looked a little neglected, a few days later I went past and she and my grandfather were spending time in the garden together giving it some much needed TLC. A staff member at RANSW shared a wonderful story of asking their grandmother who is Italian and living alone to make some of her famous passata sauce for their family and extended family. They dropped off all the ingredients and she was so excited to help and provide the sauce for her family. Being able to give people a sense of purpose is important through this to keep them both physically and psychologically active.

With the situation rapidly changing it is a very unsettling time for all of us and it is normal to feel overwhelmed and stressed. The best thing we can do for ourselves and those around us is to stay positive, hopeful and find creative ways to stay connected to one another. If you or anyone you know would like someone to talk to in this time please give us a call on 1300 364 277.

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