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Community Life - March 17, 2020

Finding Ways to Connect for Older Adults during Social Distancing

They say challenging times bring out the best in people. Anyone who has tried to buy toilet paper recently may disagree with that statement. In a broader sense, however, we see evidence this is true.  Neighbors are reaching out on the Nextdoor social media app offering to purchase groceries and run errands for older neighbors; teachers are providing non-perishable food to low-income students while schools are closed, and most importantly, the majority of Americans are following guidelines for social distancing. Nevertheless, social isolation can bring problems of its own. If you have a family member living in a nursing, assisted living or memory support community, you may be especially feeling that isolation. Fortunately, readily available technology can aid in alleviating some of the loneliness and anxiety about your loved one while helping to build community at the same time.

There are multiple free or very low-cost ways to connect with loved ones through technology. The most obvious and lowest-tech one is the phone. A daily phone call cannot only make your family member feel important, but it is a good way to check up on their mental wellbeing.

Older adults who live in a community can benefit from team members helping them connect via technology with family. If a resident is not comfortable using platforms like Skype or FaceTime to video chat with loved ones, Life Enrichment Coordinators can help them make the video calls. Additionally, we utilize the OneDay phone application. This is a video sharing app that enables team members to record short videos of residents’ life stories or daily activities and send them directly to family members. They can also share the video to social media when appropriate.

Social media is an excellent way to stay connected. Instagram and Facebook are great visual means for sending messages to isolated family members. In 2018, Facebook launched Watch Parties. A Watch Party is a way to connect and watch an event, program or video with other people and chat via the app.  Recently, churches have used Watch Parties or YouTube Live to connect worshippers with compromised immune systems with their fellow congregants. There are also Facebook groups that focus on common interests, hobbies, and discussion topics. With a little set-up and help, older adults can participate and feel they are a part of a much larger community.

We want to help older adults find purpose in this time of social distancing. We hope this restricted access to assisted living and memory support communities will be short, and family members and loved ones can get back to their normal engaging routines. In the meantime, there are benefits to short periods without distractions. If you want to help, consider sending fun greeting cards to your local senior living community. Have children draw pictures and send letters to residents; they may even get a response letter. We are encouraging residents to start seedlings by providing pots and seeds to grow in their apartments and many similar creative outlets. Great creativity is a bi-product of such times!

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