elderly man holding sleeping child

4 Ways to Connect With Loved Ones During Covid-19

How can we stay in touch with those we love who may be physically or socially-distanced from us? At Prospero, we understand the challenges of connecting with loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic. Face masks, social distancing, cancellation of non-essential medical appointments, and travel restrictions all make it difficult to know how they are doing. Checking in is harder when your family members or loved ones are elderly, averse to using technology, hard of hearing, visually-impaired, affected by dementia, or battling a chronic illness. Prospero’s care teams work to find creative ways to cultivate closeness every day, all across the country.

Technology to the Rescue

Video calling services such as Zoom or FaceTime make it easier for us to stay connected during a pandemic. It can be tricky to introduce an older loved one to new technology without overwhelming or frustrating them. We have found the following approaches to be helpful when introducing technology:

  1. Talk with your loved one ahead of time, explaining what benefits you think the new tablet or video chat account might offer them.
  2. Ask them about what technology their other friends or family might already be using.
  3. Do some research beforehand to learn what kind of technical support might be available, depending on their living situation.

If your family member resides in a long-term care facility and already has their own tablet, smartphone, or computer, many of these facilities now provide a dedicated technology support staff for their residents.

Other Creative Ways to Stay Connected

Even if your family member refuses to use technology, there are still ways to stay connected. Consider trying universal connectors such as food, music, art, and play.

Food Tastes Better When Shared With Family

There is almost always a story tied to food, and it is these stories that connect us.

  • Care packages. Why not mail some of your loved one’s favorite snacks that may not be available if they are housebound or living in a long-term care facility? Could you bake a batch of their favorite oatmeal raisin cookies to mail or drop off? What about a special seasonal food like Christmas fudge? Just make sure to check with care providers about dietary restrictions if you are not on-site.
  • Recipe collections can be memory calling cards if your family member loves to cook.  Why not ask what their favorite childhood dinners were? Or laugh together while recalling what they used to eat for school lunch?
  • Lunch or dinner dates are another way to find time to connect, even if you are busy.  Schedule a once-weekly meal time with your loved one. Drop off a home-cooked meal if you live nearby, or eat together over Zoom or through a tablet.

Memories Are for Sharing

Memory-stimulating activities, such as looking at photo albums, offer a therapeutic and meaningful way to comfort loved ones.

  • Family photo albums. If your loved one has access to technology, you could look at digital photos together via Zoom and screen sharing. If not, you could make up two copies of the same photo memory book, mail a copy to your loved one, and then virtually flip through the album together. You can now purchase photo albums that talk. Specifically designed for people with dementia, talking photo albums provide page-specific functionality that allows you to record a special song or provide a description of the photos. This is a great idea for loved ones with poor eyesight, as well. Access this link for an example of a “Talking Photo Album.”
  • Use Books to Tap into Connection. Why not read some of your favorite childhood books together? Do they remember any of their favorite childhood books?  Maybe you could read aloud to your loved one, or find an audiobook version?
  • Reconstruct the Family Tree. At Prospero, we have found that many seniors enjoy genealogy. Let your family member or loved one tell the younger generations about their ancestors. Creative family members can even make a trivia game out of family legends (Kahoot has a free, easy-to-use online platform). Research shows that telling one’s life story can help boost self-esteem, reduce anxiety, and increase feelings of connection.

Playing Games and Making Creative Connections

Help your loved ones feel young again and stimulate their brains with some silliness, laughter, and creative thinking.

  • For the tech-savvy, there are many online games for seniors to download, some for free. AARP offers a selection on their website, and some are included in their “Staying Smart” program. Does a competitive streak still run strong in your loved one? Why not challenge them to an online version of Scrabble, Mahjong, or Uno?
  • You can also play traditional card games via Zoom, Google Hangouts, FaceTime, or a tablet. Last spring, one family (grandmother and granddaughters) played weekly matches of Crazy 8’s during the lockdown. Mom got a break from homeschooling and grandma was able to spend time with her granddaughters – win-win!
  • Playtime. Parallel play – playing separately side by side via video screen – may be another strategy to engage your family member. Many long-term care facilities already use doll therapy to help ease anxiety and boredom in people with dementia. Why not mail your loved one a doll or stuffed animal for comfort and companionship? One 77-year-old grandfather bought two identical plastic play trucks, mailed one to his two-year-old grandson, and now they have regular “Truck Dates” via video chat.
  • Therapeutic Arts and Crafts. Are there easy paint-by-number kits, mandala coloring books, or a knitting craft that you and your loved one could work on simultaneously? In these stressful times, your mind may need this type of creative distraction more than you know!
  • Musical Therapy. Make a playlist of some favorite songs from your childhood, then listen together and discuss what the songs help you remember. Specially-modified audio players and radios, as well as stereos with fewer buttons, are now being sold. These products offer an easier listening experience, especially for those living with dementia.
    Or, have a younger musical member of the family give a recital via video chat. Many symphonies, musicians, and concert halls are now offering virtual performances that you can “attend” together. Consider mailing your loved one an invite to a scheduled virtual event.

Prospero Can Help You Connect During COVID

Does this list of ideas feel overwhelming to you? Don’t worry, we know how challenging it can be to live your own life while simultaneously worrying about your loved one. Prospero’s services are designed to keep everyone connected, healthier, and better prepared for whatever challenges lie ahead.

“A lot of older folks don’t want to bother their children, so they’ll end up in bad situations, but they’re willing to talk to a nurse practitioner who will call them and listen to their concerns and problems and what they’re going through. What we’re doing with Prospero is reaching those patients who were isolated and didn’t know what to do, didn’t know who to call for resources or help.” – Gifty Bawre, Prospero Nurse Practitioner

At the center of every Prospero care plan is your family. This approach was true before the COVID-19 pandemic and it is especially true now. We offer you:

  • Experienced, multidisciplinary care providers who will take the time to talk with you and your loved one in order to find ways to connect and limit social isolation.
  • Established care networks to layer in services so your loved one has more contact with the outside world in a variety of ways, even if they can’t leave their home.
  • Better communication so you receive a more accurate sense of your loved one’s well-being. We’ll coordinate your loved one’s care with their other providers and specialists so the burdens that tend to fall on you are alleviated.
  • Home visits and virtual visits with our care teams, so your loved one still receives regular medical care without risking exposure to medical offices or hospitals.

Regardless of age or health status, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed how we spend time with people we care about. Prospero’s care teams are standing by, ready to support you in finding the connections at the heart of wellbeing.