Several weeks ago, we wrote about the importance of meaningful socialization. Maintaining connections and relationships can heighten one’s sense of life satisfaction and happiness and make a significant difference in one’s physical and mental health. However, as much as we want to, busy lives, distance, and other factors, such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, can prevent families from being able to spend time with their elderly loved ones in assisted living communities.
Staying away does not always mean being disconnected. In this edition, we share a few ways in which you can stay connected with your loved ones in assisted living communities.
Technology. If your loved one is willing and able to use technology, email, text, phone calls and video chats can provide practical ways to communicate with family. With a little training, seniors can enjoy an intimate one-on-one conversation when you need their advice, enjoy a family group chat or even virtually participate in family gatherings they are unable to attend in person.
If your loved one doesn't know how to use the technology, ask a staff member to assist with a phone call or video chat. Many senior living communities, such as The Medallion Assisted Living, have been investing in technology infrastructure, with tablets and other devices available to residents for ZoomTM and Face TimeTM calls. The facility staff will be happy to assist in setting up the equipment for the residents.
In between longer calls, you can record and send short videos with greetings, family updates or highlights of school and other events. Children can participate in these activities by creating digital cards and notes, uploading a drawing, or sending a short video to grandma or grandpa.
Ask other family members and friends, even close neighbors of your loved one to send short video greetings too. Assisted living community staff can also help a resident record videos to send in response to create two-way communication that helps boost an elder’s sense of dignity, belonging and personal power.
Tap into free online resources. Whether you both enjoy classical music, art or travel, there are free online resources for everyone to enjoy together - virtually. Examples include ballet, opera and theater performances, tours of world-famous museums, webcams from all over the world, featuring natural and man-made wonders, live streams of religious services, and more. Or use one of many movie-watching apps designed especially for long-distance connections, such as Gaze or MyCircleTV, to watch a favorite movie or TV show together. Or to keep it simple, use the screen sharing function on ZoomTM. Many of those apps are free and come with a text or voice chat function, so you can chat as you watch.
Write a letter! Not all seniors are tech savvy. Sometimes a simple handwritten letter can make a person’s day. Be sure to write in large, legible letters that your loved one can read. To mix things up, get the whole family involved in making handmade cards and pictures to create an inventory of personal greetings that you can mail weekly or monthly.
Mail a care package. Prepare and mail care packages, with thoughtful items such as your child’s crafts and handmade cards or drawings, a small photo album with recent family photos, a book by a favorite author, puzzles, favorite snacks or foods approved by the facility (residents may share or gain access to food that is off-limits for some residents due to medical conditions or allergies). A new robe, cozy, non-slip house shoes or a new throw blanket show that you’re thinking about your loved one and care about their wellbeing. Whichever forms of communication you choose, you will make your loved one’s day just a little brighter.