It’s interesting to think of the time and effort we put behind cherishing and preserving and restoring (and appreciating!) artwork in museums and private collections. Meanwhile, our precious elderly are suffering from isolation, loneliness and neglect. And their value to us is priceless.
Certainly, the pandemic has made a bad situation worse for seniors. The challenges from the strain of reduced social contact and limited gatherings are keenly felt by all. But for the elderly, social isolation isn’t merely an inconvenience. It can be devastating to their mental health and overall well-being.
When Shut-Ins Are Shut-Out
Since the elderly are among those at highest risk for life-threatening complications in a pandemic, families are placed in an awkward position. Loved ones and friends who might normally plan routine visits are staying away. They want to keep parents and grandparents safe, but the unintended consequence is crippling loneliness. On top of this, seniors who still enjoy travel, book club gatherings and church activities are no longer venturing out. The end result is a devastating wave of isolation and even depression.
The answer is seeking new ways to stay connected despite not being able to visit in person.
Hello, It’s Me
While some of our dear elderly are not familiar with smartphones and “Facetiming,” the good old-fashioned telephone is still something they easily understand. Make it a point to schedule regular phone calls without the 21st century wizardry. Just the sound of your voice will make all the difference. Even if you typically check-in with your loved ones every week or so, increase the frequency of those calls. There will never be a time they won’t be happy to hear from you. Especially now that they most likely are enjoying fewer social contacts than before the pandemic.
If you think there is a beloved senior in your life who would not be intimidated by technology, help them out by purchasing a tablet with a large screen. Take the time to walk them through the ins-and-outs of answering a video call. With older folks in mind, many tablets feature amplified volume and bigger buttons and controls that go a long way to making things easier to manage.
You’ve Got Mail
Sometimes the older the technology, the more well-received it is. That is absolutely the case with “Care Packages” and letters. Get creative and put together a box of your loved ones’ favorite snacks and surprise them with some things they will really love. If a senior in your life is a big fan of crossword puzzles or Sudoku or Jumble Scrambled Word Games, send her a box and don’t forget the pencils. You’re never too old to celebrate “half-birthdays” either, so consider sending a “birthday-in-box” six months before their next birthday.
Even if you don’t have a special senior in your life, it doesn’t mean you can’t help fight loneliness on their behalf. UCA partners with Love For Our Elders, and since 2013, thousands of handwritten letters have been mailed to senior communities as part of the “Letters of Love” project. Simple messages of hope and encouragement is all it takes to make an incredible and indelible difference. Your letter may be the only mail they receive in a month! Just tell them about yourself, maybe share a joke or riddle and let them know that they are loved. If you feel too shy to write to a stranger, you can still chip in with a donation or simply sending in some postage stamps and blank greeting cards.
Here’s a Grand Idea
You don’t have to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to reaching out to elderly parents. Get their grandkids involved. Many grandparents miss their grandchildren most of all. Put them to work creating a fun “home movie” with their smartphone . . . it can just be a simple video updating Grandma or Grandpa on the latest news. Or maybe a song that the kids sing together. And of course, an “I miss you” message at the end. Package it up with some popcorn and a new blanket as part of a Movie Night surprise. You can even send along their favorite Door Dash meal.
If there is no special occasion on the horizon, that’s okay! Reconnecting with people you care about is wonderful at any time of the year. Remember, grandkids have a special place in their grandparents’ hearts, so encourage your kids to make phone calls at the very least. Not being able to spend time with their favorite youngsters is often cited by elders as something they miss most.
The Youth Can Walk Faster But the Elderly Know the Road
Inspiring people to care is deeply rooted in who we are as “Custodians of the Caring Movement.” Slowing down to listen and especially embrace our elders is what our world urgently needs, because no one should ever have to feel isolated or alone.
If we’re fortunate, we’ll all be elderly someday. We’ll go through life’s transitions and “role loss” as part of that change. And all we’ll want then is what we all want now. To feel connected, special and worthy of this amazing gift of life.
Aging can be an extraordinary process in which you become the person you always should have been. But why wait? Be that person now!
By Mark Smith, contributing author
We invite you to discover inspiring and effective ways to care for yourself and to serve others. Now more than ever, caring is what we all need most. Caring for our self. Caring for others around us. Life now demands caring, resilience and compassion like never before. So, become a Custodian of the Caring Movement and help create the world we need right now, the world we want for our future generations.