“I feel so lonely and isolated.” "It’s hard not being able to connect with people." These comments have been heard worldwide all over the news since the outbreak of COVID-19. Similar comments have also been said by seniors in care facilities before COVID-19 had been brought to light.
The Ontario government has mandated Canadians to stay home and socially distance during this time, which is causing individuals to go stir crazy. Online classes have spiked, the ability to connect through technology has increased and the awareness of mental health during this time has been addressed. Yet the question remains, will COVID-19 finally be the reason that we start to address seniors' mental health?
Imagine yourself in a room without a television or a cell phone and just a window to look out. Your CD has just finished and the staff are too busy to replace and play another which happened to be your only entertainment for the afternoon. You have no way to leave the room without the assistance of another. What do you think seniors do who are bound to their wheelchair, and rely on someone to push them to get anywhere? Or what about seniors in a memory locked unit that are unable to get outside without having someone support them?
How the world feels being locked down with COVID-19 is how seniors feel every day of their lives if they are not seen by family or a private caregiver. Seniors, just like us, are sisters, brothers, wives, husbands, mothers, and fathers and similarly, have as much desire to feel connected to the world around us.
We are quick to point fingers at the staff in care facilities and blame them for the inadequate care, but these homes are filled with hard-working nurses and PSW's that frankly just do not have the time to engage with their residents because they are overwhelmed with the physical care needs. Recreational staff plan activities and games for seniors on a large scale, trying their best to make the environment as engaging as possible. But the question still remains unanswered... when will the general public realize seniors need more support?
Why should you care?
It's simple... if we don't start changing the way we treat our aging population, how do you think we will be cared for when we get older? So many people say they do not want to get old, or that they want to die before they ever have to be in a nursing home. We have allowed ourselves to disregard the fact that seniors can live well in their final years experiencing simple pleasures. COVID-19 can shape history and be the life-changing story we tell our loved ones when we grow older. Social isolation can kill our seniors and it is our responsibility to step up and be the reason we change the narrative. Ask yourself - are you proud of how much you connect with your loved ones? How do you keep in contact with your aging loved one while socially distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Social distancing does not mean we should allow our seniors to be socially isolated. Isolation has major negative effects on seniors’ physical and mental health. Prior to this pandemic, seniors were already at such a high risk for developing depression due to social isolation and loneliness. Though we are not able to visit our loved ones right now, it is crucial to stay in touch with them so they feel connected to the world around them. Your kindness will not go unnoticed.
Tips on how you can keep in contact with your aging loved ones while socially distancing:
1. Call them:
· If they live independently- This is only an option if your loved one has a working phone that they know how to use.
· If they live in a care facility- You will be able to call the nursing station or the recreational therapy department and have them transfer you over to your loved one. However, you may have to call ahead of time to set up a time for this call.
2. Say hello from a distance:
· If they live independently- Visit at the window or the front door (just remember to keep a distance of at least 2 metres).
· If they live in a care facility- Touch base with staff ahead of time so your loved one can be set up at a window or a balcony. If they are hard of hearing, bring giant signs that say hello.
3. Deliver them letters:
· If they live independently- Send letters via mail or if you live within driving distance drop off the letter to their front door.
· If they live in a care facility- You can either mail your letter or drop off the letter at the reception of the home. The staff at care facilities are still delivering letters to all residents within the home.
4. Send them care packages:
· If they live independently- Only deliver essential items for your loved one. This can include groceries, medications, household cleaning products, ect.
· If they live in a care facility- Only deliver essential items for your loved one. Essential items may include special soaps, hearing aid batteries and clothing. Some facilities are even accepting flowers as a delivery. Most facilities are not accepting food, or anything homemade so please avoid sending these items. Make sure to contact the reception prior to delivering the package so you know what is permitted.
5. Set up a Skype call (or any other form of video conferencing):
· If they live independently- Your loved one must have a computer or an iPad (or something with a webcam). If they have never done a video call, you will have to take the time to call them and guide them through the process of setting up Skype. It may seem impossible to do, however if you take the time and give them slow, detailed instructions you may be surprised.
· If they live in a care facility- Email or call the recreation staff to set this up. Many care facilities are doing this already so it's likely that they have the experience and technology to do this.
6. Hire a private caregiver:
· If they live independently- Look into local home care agencies that will help support your loved one living at home. These private caregivers can help your loved one feel more connected to their family by helping with the steps above.
· If they live in a care facility- Look into local agencies that have a private caregiver who is able to visit your loved one. There are currently some restrictions for private caregivers, so ensure you speak to the care facility before setting this up.
When COVID-19 is over...
This pandemic seems to be a never-ending wave of negative information that is causing people to feel isolated and alone. When the world is no longer at risk and seniors are safe to be visited, we need to lend a helping hand and be more aware of our aging population. Family members need to work together to schedule times to visit their loved ones and private caregivers need to be considered to help bridge the gap of overworked staff in care facilities. Be the reason a senior smiles, laughs and feels valued. Human connection is what the world thrives on, do not leave seniors behind.