Avoiding loneliness during the coronavirus pandemic
Loneliness amongst older people was a growing crisis before the arrival of COVID-19.
Now many of our parents are wisely staying at home completely, or following current government advice to only go out for walks and essential foods and medicines. The usual support and interest groups are on hold. Community centres have closed. Libraries aren’t accessible.
So what can we do to help our family members avoid the many downsides of isolation?
My first thought was to turn to the charities who offer befriending services in normal times. However, they obviously can’t set up visits right now, and to protect their staff some have closed their helplines.
A worthwhile first stop could be AgeUK’s main web site and finding the nearest office to your parent. If their helpline is open they may be able to point you in the direction of trusted phone contact volunteers.
AgeScotland has now announced that elderly friends/relatives who are struggling with loneliness during this period of social isolation can call their @agescotland helpline on 0800 12 44 222. Similarly AgeCymru is offering a‘check-in-and-chat’ telephone service for the over 70s in Wales who live alone from Monday 23 March 2020 on 08000 223 444.
Re-engage, previously know as Contact the Elderly, is reorganising its services to deliver more telephone contact. As with many charities, it is appealing for both volunteers and donations to help support this. Refer your parent and the charity should be in touch.
The Royal Voluntary Service has launched a crowdfunder called Isolation Doesn’t Have to Mean Coping Alone, with the aim of raising £500,000 to help reach tens of thousands of older people. The charity says: “By joining together, we can reach them with phone calls, deliveries of essentials like food and medicine and lifts to vital hospital and GP appointments and shared activities in our virtual village hall.” You can find out more about how the RVS is adapting its services to help those in need and reach out to those living in isolation, on the crowdfounder page, where you can also make a donation.
Local councils should by now be able to give you advice about volunteers as well, although they may be focusing on getting supplies to the housebound. They will also know about safeguarding your parent. This is really important, as sadly the scammers are still at work and finding new ways to fleece the vulnerable and trusting members of our population.
Never underestimate the value of a daily phone call. Make an appointment for a certain time, so your parent can look forward to it, and know that they will be your priority at that time.
You could try roping in other members of the family to make a call, maybe once or twice a week. Don’t worry about having nothing much to say – it’s the contact that counts.
School-age grandchildren will be looking for entertainment. Perhaps they could make cards or write letters to your parent, which could be posted during the daily exercise?
The benefit of the internet is being able to see people while you’re talking to them. There are plenty of free options, such as Facetime, WhatsApp and Skype, as well as apps more often used for business meetings, such as Zoom. You can conference call as well, to get the family together.
If your parent is technologically aware and already a FaceBook user, then there are some interesting groups to join. From Archers Addicts to sewing circles, there are some friendly and supportive groups.
While I wouldn’t recommend that they join local community groups right now (rather a lot of bickering and judging going on), there are local history groups who share photos and memories of life in another age. That could be combined with working on your family tree. Some of the heritage apps are offering some free services right now.
You could join a local community groups on your parent’s behalf, to keep an eye out for organised help, or even bits of local news that you could share with your parent. Also many micro-groups are being set up for individual roads with the aim of looking out for neighbours. Organisers may put a note through your parent’s door with details.
Daytime television is remarkably limited. Even with wider services from the likes of Virgin and Sky, repeats are the order of the day. To make viewing more interesting, you could organise DVDs for your parent. What about a box set of a classic serial from a few years ago, like the Forsyte Sage or anything by Trollope or Jane Austen? Or sports events? Or classic films such as the Ealing Comedies?
Does your parent have a hobby that they still enjoy or could pick up again? Perhaps you could think of a purpose for them to start knitting, woodworking, or whatever they enjoy. You could order supplies to be delivered to their home.
The radio is a great comfort for many. Avoid the stations that are end-to-end with Coronavirus talk, or pick out programmes to recommend to your parent that they would enjoy. (Another excuse to call could be to say a good programme is about to start.)
Radio4Extra is a great retreat, but does need a DAB radio for reception or a television service with radio choices. DAB can be tricky to receive, so if you’re thinking of sending a new radio to your parent, pick a good quality one and, if you get a copy of the instructions, you can help them set it up.
Reading is a solitary pleasure in itself. As well as ordering real books or versions for Kindle, you could organise audiobooks. If your parent is a member of the local library, they may be able to access online book download services, even while the libraries are closed. Amazon’s Audible service is worth a look.
Still stuck for ideas for a parent that needs help to work out their day? A new app aims to help carers for those living with dementia generate fun activities to keep minds active during lockdown. Produced by Active Minds, Support for Care has over 200 different activities suitable for different stages of the dementia journey which can be conducted within the home. The app is available to download on both Apple and Android, and includes learning videos and a questionnaire which can help you choose the appropriate activity level for abilities.
It’s important that people try to keep up with some exercise, even if they can’t get out of the house. It not only keeps them mobile, but also raises the spirits.
There are a good number of online classes they could join, or again you could order a DVD. Even downloading some exercises and posting the instructions to your parent might be useful. Move It or Lose It normally runs instructor-led classes, but with those closed they are offering a support pack from their website – click on the find-a-class function and it should pop up.
There’s plenty of advice around for parents who suddenly find they have children at home. Making a routine and keeping to it is a favourite tip. It would be very easy to just not bother when your usual structure has been taken away. Now is the time to do things we’ve always been meaning to do. An hour sorting photographs. Half an hour deadheading daffodils. A date with Doctors at 1.45pm. Writing a page of a memoir every day. And a phone call at 6.
If you have any other ideas for keeping loneliness at bay at this time or useful links, please do comment below.
Image by Angelika Graczyk from Pixabay