It’s unfortunate, but at Christmas, some people are overlooked. One group is those people 65 and older who no longer have family or friends to celebrate the holiday with. With each passing year, the number of friends they have declines. Some friends die. Others go to live with their children or even their grandchildren. Others move into Senior Centers, Assisted Living Centers or Nursing Homes. There are less and less friends to enjoy holidays with. Eventually their own spouses die. They suddenly have to deal with the loss of their partner, with whom they experienced most of their lives. They frequently are overcome with grief. The grief is more intense at Christmas.
As they age, their own health starts to deteriorate. They’re no longer as mobile as they once were. They may become disabled and may not be able to get out of their homes frequently.
Their entire universe becomes much smaller than it was just a short time ago. The sad thing is, they are proud and won’t tell others what is happening to them.
The COVID Effect
Added to the traditional difficulties for seniors to enjoy the holidays COVID continues to be a real threat during this season compounding the isolation. To slow the spread of the corona-virus among seniors, nursing homes and assisted living communities are following CDC recommendations and restricting all visitors, volunteers, and nonessential personnel, with a few exceptions, such as end-of-life situations. Also cancelled are all group activities and communal dining. Active screening of residents and health care personnel for fever and respiratory symptoms is being implemented. Your older loved ones who are still independent may also make the decision not to attend family activities due to the fear of the transmission of COVID.
Some Tips to Help
- Holiday gatherings
If your our older loved ones have been invited to a family holiday gathering ensure that all CDC guidelines are followed in aspect to social distancing, cleaning and the number of guests attending. Detail and explain your sanitation and distancing methods to your older family members and let them decide if they would like to attend. If the decision was made for your older family members not to attend offer to visit so you and the older family can have special holiday time with reduced risk. Skype and Zoom call during the larger family gathering can help to include those family members not attending.
- Establish a regular contact schedule
To reassure your older adult that you’ll always be there for them, consider setting up a schedule for when you’ll contact them and stick to it religiously. Knowing when to expect a call from you can help them feel more secure and connected during an uncertain time. This is especially important if they aren’t able to initiate calls on their own. If your older adult has Alzheimer’s or dementia, but is able to understand reminder notes, consider writing down a clear call schedule and getting it to them via care package or mail.
- Talk on the telephone
With texting and video calls, sometimes we forget that a good old-fashioned phone call is a wonderful way to stay connected. The best part is that your older adult already knows how to use their phone and there’s no set up needed. Personal assistants Alexa can also be programmed allowing them simply ask to call names in their contact list.
- Video calls on a computer
If your older adult is able to use a computer, consider doing a video call with them. There’s extra comfort and reassurance in seeing someone’s face. You’ll also be able to better assess their level of health and well-being. And they’ll feel less isolated because they’ll be able to see the face of someone they trust.
- Video calls on a mobile phone
If your older adult uses a smartphone regularly, they may already have video calling set up, like FaceTime on Apple iPhones.
- Drop off letters or care packages
If your older adult isn’t able to use a telephone, smartphone, or computer, ask their care community if you can drop off letters or care packages for them. Put together a bag of basic supplies, favorite snacks, or comfort items and drop it off for them. And to remind them that they’re loved and missed, you could include special photos or a handwritten letter. If it’s feasible, you could even ask family and friends to send letters to you via email so you can print them out (in large font) and add them to your older adult’s care package.
- Encourage family and friends to send letters and cards
Because the NEJM study suggests that the virus only survives for a few hours on packages and cardboard, it’s less likely that mail would be carrying the virus. To brighten their day, ask family and friends to send letters, cards, and photos to your older adult. Everyone loves to get mail, especially when we’re feeling disconnected and isolated. They’ll even be able to keep these items displayed in their room as constant reminders that they’re loved and missed.
Cleaning Care Packages
Pre-clean care packages for safety. With older adults at high risk for serious complications from COVID-19, it’s better to be safe than sorry. A NEJM study suggests that the virus only survives for a few hours on packages, but can live on some surfaces for up to 3 days (like plastic bags or containers).
If you choose to send a care package, take a few precautions to reduce the chance that you’ll be delivering germs along with it.
First, thoroughly clean all the items you’ll be including in the care package – see our corona-virus cleaning tips for household items here.
Then, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds using the WHO method before putting everything into a bag.
You might also consider using 2 bags. One clean, new bag to hold all the items and an outer bag that can be immediately discarded once the package is delivered.
Do The Best You Can
In general, just do the best that you can. Use whatever means of communication that is currently available until a better option becomes available.
To monitor your older adult’s health and well-being, check in with the facility regularly to find out how they’re doing. Ask if they’re continuing to implement their care plan or if there have been any modifications.
Be mindful that staff will be overwhelmed with calls from family and with implementing measures to keep seniors safe. They’re doing the best they can, so be kind and patient and express your gratitude for their hard work on the front lines.
You can make a difference. Take some time. Think about the people who live right there in your neighborhood. There may be a senior who has no one to spend this Christmas with and is going to be all alone that may benefit from some of these tips.