The importance of family in a senior’s life is truly immeasurable. It’s even been proven by scientific research. In fact, a study showed that the involvement of family members is tied to a higher quality of life among residents of assisted living communities. Senior communities which nurture interactions between family members are directly correlated with happier seniors. However, when an aging loved one first transitions to assisted living, it can be a challenge to adjust as a family. There are many ways to strengthen relationships and overcome any distance. It just takes a little effort, plenty of communication, and utilizing technology. This is especially pivotal right now as the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a burden of isolation and uncertainty for seniors due to travel restrictions and stay-at-home advisories. As elder experts, we have some advice for maintaining close family bonds with senior living.
Put effort into communicating.
Increased communication during this time of COVID-19 is a necessity for the emotional and mental health of seniors. Hearing your voice over the phone or seeing you through a video call can mean everything to a lonely loved one. Whichever medium you choose to bond with your senior loved one, it can make the distance between you seem smaller.
Put extra effort into talking with them and find new ways to communicate if there are barriers to break down. It’s only natural for any distance to affect how you connect to one another. Be patient and listen to your senior loved one. Ask plenty of questions to engage them such as:
- “How are you?” Be sure to listen carefully to their answer then ask further questions to show you care and are concerned about their wellbeing.
- “Who have you been spending time with?” Find out who their friends are in the senior living community and which staff or caregivers they are close to.
- “How was your doctor’s visit?” Keep updated on their health care and appointments.
Share your life with your senior loved one.
Let them know about family updates or anything else interesting that affects your lives.
- Tell them about their grandchildren or any other relatives that they may not talk to often.
- Share any personal news. Connect with them by talking about aspects of your own life such as work, your other relationships, favorite activities, or your hobbies.
- Share about local and world news. Discuss your feelings on current issues and ask them their opinions too. Tread carefully if this tends to be a point of contention.
Send them special things.
You can’t put a price on the value of letters, packages, cards and other tangible items to your senior loved one. Especially at a time like this. Mailing or even digitally sending them special things can help them feel involved with the family. Some ideas include:
- Your senior loved one will definitely save every photograph you send! Encourage them to display family photographs in their personal space.
- Children’s schoolwork and art. Sending grandchildren’s artwork, school accomplishments, or projects can help a grandparent feel involved and celebrate them from afar.
- Hobby materials. Show support for your senior loved one by sending them materials for their favorite hobbies. This may mean craft items, magazines, or anything else to encourage them to keep up the hobby
Take advantage of technology to stay close.
Technology presents many new opportunities to stay connected with our loved ones despite distance. Keep in mind that seniors are often not as familiar with technology and can be hesitant about it. Some advice to help seniors embrace technology:
- Be positive and help them learn how to use new technology such as live video calls, texting, or streaming music. Remember to be patient as it may be a learning process.
- Involving grandchildren can help bridge the gap between generations and connect your senior loved one with young family members.
- If they have dexterity or cognitive limitations, there are tablets and smartphones designed for easier use by seniors. You can also contact the senior living staff of their community who may be able to assist.