Do you have an older relative isolating themselves at home? Many of us do and are presently unable to get to visit them during this COVID-19 pandemic, which is often causing lots of upset and worry. Here are a few tips and suggestions to make the going easier for all:
Older people that previously had a full and varied life will by now be really feeling the difference. Loneliness can often cause a number of knock-on health effects such as loss of appetite, lethargy, depression and loss of interest in personal care and appearance. Thus, it is hugely important to ensure regular contact with family and friends. This can be done by telephone but if your relative has access to a mobile phone or laptop and is on the internet, why not have a video link to speak to each other. It really is almost as good as being there in person with facial expressions to ‘read’, you can tell if your loved one is struggling to cope and can put in some intervention if necessary.
Sometimes, if there is little new happening, it is easy for conversation topics to dry up and communication becomes something to feel anxious about. A fun way to avoid this is to incorporate some conversation starters to get things flowing. Let’s Talk or The Art of Conversation cards are ideal for this as they ask random questions that can often unlock memories and help relatives get to know each other better. Rather than expect a sudden answer, you can always ask, say three, at the end of the chat and talk about them the following time to give each some thinking time.
When families with younger children are video-calling, the younger ones can get fidgety after a while. A fun way to keep them engaged can be to have a treasure hunt. The older relative can ask them to find something say ‘round’ and send them off to hunt (while the adults talk) and marvel at what they come back with! Keep it to around six items and then make up a story about all the items with each speaker taking it in turns to continue the story.
A radio playing can also give the feeling that one is not alone, especially with some of the local radio phone-in programmes. These cover local issues and can often be highly engaging with different viewpoints being discussed – your loved one may even be tempted to ring up and join in. Check that hearing aid batteries are working (If relevant) and that the required radio station frequency is tuned correctly.
Owning a pet is often not an option for many elderly people due to health issues such as asthma or allergies. A great solution is a companion that gives all the fun without the worry, such as a Precious Pet; ‘breathing’ animals that stay curled up on a lap just waiting to be stroked. Joy For All pets are robotic cats and dogs that behave just like the real thing – they move, make noises and respond to touch in the same way as a normal pet, click on the link below to see one in action.
The TV is a great resource these days with so many channels to choose from, it can sometimes be rather confusing to older people. Find out what type of programmes your loved one enjoys and make a point of reminding them which channel/time it is on. Watch it too and then review it afterwards together. Some of the talent shows are ideal for this – you could each create a sheet with your favourite acts listed in order and scored marks out of ten. Encourage them to limit the amount of news as this can become stressful and cause extra worry for those in isolation.
Why not treat him/her to a regular magazine? There are some great offers at present – especially on those for gardening etc and which are often weekly. It will give something to look forward to and helps give a clear division to the week. A regular newspaper can also be enjoyed too.
For anyone with a sight impairment, there are free talking newspapers available from https://www.tnf.org.uk/find-a-talking-newspaper , these are often local weekly newspapers that will give lots of informative advice downloaded onto a USB stick.
Quizzes and puzzles can be an enjoyable way to spend time and helps distract from current worries, or why not opt for a simple colouring or painting kit to encourage creativity – you never know, you might receive the finished picture for this year’s Christmas present.
You could play a game of chess if each has a board and moves both their own and the other players pieces (this requires honesty and careful listening otherwise it could get very confusing).
If you are both online, why not opt to play a game of chess or similar together? There are many free apps that enable you to link up and play each other – see the link below to choose which is more suitable.
Ensure that both you and your loved one have all emergency contact numbers in a prominent place by the telephone – preferably on a wall. These will include GP name and number, local police, gas, electric, plumber, next of kin etc. This could save valuable time if they fall seriously ill.
Check that he/she has a good supply of medicines – ask what they are currently taking and where they keep them. Health practices generally offer a delivery service for vulnerable patients these days so make a note of when supplies are running low (about a month beforehand to allow for delays) and keep on top of it. Also check there are replacement batteries, working torches etc.
Encourage them to do some daily exercise. Their daily walk to the local shop or to a friend’s house would have provided a good amount of stretching and weight-bearing workout for the lower body as well as getting the heart pumping. It is easy for those at home to stay seated for long periods. Why not start a daily programme of gentle stretches to do when the TV adverts are on? These run for around four minutes – just the right time to do ten arm stretches and ten leg stretches. Then when the next ones appear, do fingers and toes, the next maybe gentle neck stretches and shoulder rolls.
To make it easier, treat them to a gentle exercise DVD such as Move it Or Lose it by Julie Robinson. She gives expert advice and a series of stretches for both seated and standing moves. If just a CD is needed, then Sit to Get Fit CD may be an enjoyable way to improve circulation and tone up muscles to music. Resistance bands can be also used alongside these aids or just on their own to improve muscle strength.
When brushing teeth, why not try to stand on one leg (holding on to the basin at first) and then the other. Build up over time. Poor balance accounts for many falls in the elderly so this can really help.
And lastly, why not send them a nice treat to enjoy. An unexpected box of chocolates or sweets can really make someone’s day and lift their mood. Or even get a take-away of fish and chips to be delivered? (Ensure good hygiene is followed with containers).
Such kind acts are not only good for the receiver, but also for you as the sender and once the lockdown is lifted, your bond may likely be stronger than before.