Last week, before our social distancing protocols became even stricter, my mum came to visit. She lives a block away and normally sees my daughter regularly, picking her up from daycare, taking her swimming, having her over for afternoon tea. Their relationship is sweet and special and important to both of them (as well as to my sanity).
This visit was certainly a strange one. My mum stood on the other side of our front gate and spoke to us over the fence. We stayed 1.5m metres back in the front garden. My daughter didn’t quite understand what was happening, and my mum had tears in her eyes.
Now, my mum is hardly ‘elderly’ – she still works full time, and she’s only just let her hair grow out in its natural grey. She’s regularly mistaken for being a decade younger than she is (here’s hoping I’ve inherited those genes). But, she is at risk, and we’re not taking any chances.
With so many Australian families now feeling the void of grandparents in their day-to-day, we spoke to Paul McIntyre about some strategies we can employ to keep caring for the older people in our lives, from a distance. Paul is the author of Use It Or Lose It, an essential guide to remaining vital through mid-life and beyond.
For those of us that regularly check in or care for our parents and relatives, how can we still make sure they are looked after while social distancing?
Firstly, employ a back to basics approach.
- Rather than using your phone to text, call your loved ones to talk, and listen to how they are feeling. If you’re in a position to assist them, ask what they need. Medication? Groceries? Perhaps you could drop off books or DVDs, all the time encouraging them to wash their hands after picking up anything coming into their residence from outside.
- If your loved one is suffering from dementia and is confused by current events, be patient and be prepared to explain the situation as many times as required.
- Should your parents or grandparents be in a nursing home and you have concerns try calling the switchboard of the care facility and ask to speak with someone who can answer your questions. Again, be patient and exercise understanding.
- Most importantly keep up channels of communication, follow the latest announcements from your state and the federal governments about restrictions of movement, and do what you can within the safety guidelines for your health and the health of your loved ones.
Many grandparents have an active role in our kids lives - often taking on a carer role. How can we explain to kids they won’t be seeing their grandparents for a while?
More often than not children are well aware of the concerning issues adults attempt to shield them from. Be candid with your kids, and explain the situation in terms they can easily grasp. It can be as simple as letting them know there is a nasty virus doing the rounds and to stop nanny and others getting sick, everyone must stay at home.
But there’s no need to let social distancing turn into social isolation. Apps such as Skype or Facetime are the perfect methods of letting your children see their grandparents. If the older people in your life are not familiar with such technology, establish a regular daily call. Before hand, talk with your parents about how they might respond to any questions, so that all the family presents a united front in order to avoid mixed messages creating unnecessary anxiety.
Can you recommend any ideas to keep up contact safely?
Given the ever changing nature of the current crisis its highly important to keep up with the news in order to follow the latest medical advice on the safest means of interacting with loved ones, especially those aged 70 and over.
Remember, what is recommended today may not be recommended tomorrow.
If the advice of the authorities is to stay home and only venture out for food, medical supplies or exercise, make sure you do just that. But before you do your trip to the supermarket or chemist, check in with your neighbors, elderly friends or relatives and see if there is anything they need while you are outside of the house.
If you are dropping off a care package to Nan and Poppy, take the kids with you but make sure they are aware of maintaining an appropriate physical distance once you arrive at your destination.
When you do leave a box of goodies on someone’s doorstep, remind them to wash their hands after they have unpacked everything, just to be safe.
What about the practical things like helping them with their shopping and driving them to appointments ? What can we do without putting them at risk?
To best help your elderly loved ones the first thing to do is keep a track of the news and the latest health advice and act accordingly.
If your relatives, neighbours or friends are over 70 or have a chronic illness, and you happen to live nearby, the safest course of action is for them to stay at home and provide you with a list of their needs – be it a grocery list or prescription.
Should they be living in a different city without anyone to assist them, home deliveries may be an option you can explore online.
To best avoid risk of infection, encourage your elderly loved ones to cancel all unnecessary appointments.
Likewise, if someone in your family needs to see a GP, call the surgery first to check on any changes that might be in place to how appointments are being managed including through a telehealth approach, and whether or not the situation is considered serious enough to require venturing from home.
For lots of elderly people, social visits are vital for their emotional well being. How can we make sure social distancing doesn’t leave them feeling isolated?
In times of social distancing, keeping in touch with the elderly people in your life can still be maintained using creativity and a back to basics approach.
- Use your phone to call in the morning and the evening. Sometimes all you might need to do is listen and ask if there is anything they require by way of food or medicine, should you be in a position to help.
- Involve them in your life. Do they have any easy and tasty recipes you can make, based on whatever ingredients you have left in the kitchen cupboard? Maybe they can offer advice on how to create and maintain a veggie patch to help ensure a level of self sufficiency over the coming months?
- Be inventive and use Skype or Facetime or the phone to allow grandparents to read bedtime stories.
- Order stamps online and write letters. Feel free to value add to your missive by including items such as photos, postcards, newspaper clippings and drawings by grandchildren. Post letters when you go for your grocery run, reminding the recipients to wash their hands after reading – just to be safe.
- Along with your immediate family and friends, it’s good to be mindful of older people in your neighbourhood who may not have family or friends available to assist them, or for that matter, people you know who don’t drive and are unable to get to a supermarket or chemist. Check in on them with a phone call, or leave a note in their letterbox or under the front door, to see if they need help with anything. Now more than ever, participating in your community is really important for all of us!