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How to help the elderly avoid COVID isolation

Get them onto social media, help them avoid scams and fake news, but also -- go old school and write them a letter

We’re living through truly unprecedented times. Self-isolation and lockdowns have almost become normalized for so many, and the way we work has transformed to adapt to the new COVID-19 landscape. We miss our favorite restaurants, cafes, and bars due to the flood of closures resulting from the pandemic, but perhaps most pertinently of all, we miss spending time with those we love, our extended families, and those we care about the most. 

While this uncertain period of human history is frightening and disorienting for almost everyone, it’s important to remember that the elderly – whether parents, grandparents, neighbors, or friends – are disproportionately affected by this crisis. For them, this is a truly worrying time, wracked with anxiety and confusion, and not only because older adults are the highest risk group when it comes to both contracting and becoming seriously ill from COVID-19. The psychological and emotional toll on this demographic is every bit as concerning; they’re increasingly ordered to self-isolate to protect themselves and their communities, ending up often shut indoors, alone, and away from their loved ones.

The result has been a draining and often depressing existence. While the virus seems to be slowing, older adults continue to be justifiably afraid. They need support more than ever, as well as the support systems which the modern world and its technological wonders can provide with your help and assistance. 

Here are six significant ways you can make a real difference to the older generations of your family, the elderly members of your community, and those most in need stay connected, occupied, and happy during the difficult months ahead. 

1. Encourage Your Elderly Relatives and Friends to Use Social Media

Social distancing might mean no more friends popping round for tea and no more afternoons spent chatting in front of the TV, but it doesn’t have to spell the end of socializing for your aging friends and family members. 

More than 70 percent of older adults already have some competence when it comes to using the internet, and social media use (especially the use of Facebook) among the over 75 crowd has doubled over the past couple of years. This is a hugely positive trend, especially during the global pandemic, as staying in touch via social media isn’t just a fun way to catch up with your family members and neighbors for elderly people, it’s a chance to alleviate loneliness, and to feel connected to those they’d otherwise be missing. 

Facebook, Instagram, and video-conferencing apps like Skype, Zoom, and WhatsApp are absolutely ideal for elderly people in self-isolation, as they tend to be user-friendly, and based on image and video-rich content that allow them to feel less isolated. If you have an elderly friend or relative who hasn’t yet explored the potential of social media, it’s well worth finding ways to help them set up an account or download the apps that will allow them to get online, and get in touch with their family members. 

While there are countless benefits when it comes to social media for elderly individuals (with some older adults even finding fame on social media sites during the lockdown!), there are, of course, certain things to watch out for. The risk of inadvertently putting their personal information in jeopardy is often overlooked by less technologically-literate older internet users, and there is no shortage of scams that directly target their relative naivety online. Be sure to talk to your friends and relatives about the risks, and let them know what to watch out for. 

2. Help Them Discover Sites Which Engage Their Interests

Over the course of any life, we all pick up new hobbies, passions, and interests, many of which serve us well throughout our autumn years. The internet is an incredible source of information and entertainment relating to every imaginable hobby or interest, and showing your elderly friends how to bookmark a handful of sites can really help keep their minds alert, and their passions alive through the long days of lockdown. 

You could also show them how to subscribe to YouTube channels which match their interests, or sign them up to a streaming service where they’ll be able to watch their favorite shows on demand. E-commerce sites and brands are awakening to the reality that online shoppers now come from all backgrounds and age brackets. You could help them find user-friendly sites which consider the needs of older customers, and assist them with their socially-distanced shopping needs, too. 

3. Assist With Finding Reliable Sources of News

At the moment, the news can be a bit hard to stomach for even the most stoic among us, and as regular users of the medium have discovered, the internet isn’t always the best source of reliable facts. Reading endless articles about the coronavirus could probably do more harm than good.  

This is something to be aware of. If the elderly person in your life is keen to stay updated on what’s happening outside and in the wider world, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but give them an overview of how sensationalist and shock value sites work.

And before you send them out onto the wild and woolly internet, make sure they have the basic skills to open and use a browser, shorten links they want to share, and work with an email program. Keep in mind that what seems simple and intuitive to you might intimidate the heck out of someone who didn’t grow up with a smart phone molecularly bonded to their palm. 

4. Explore Online Games and Activities That Encourage Mental Engagement

There has been a recent explosion in brain-training apps, online games, and all kinds of computer and smartphone-based activities made specifically for older users, and designed to encourage mental engagement and alertness. 

Self-isolation, coupled with the fatigue and loss in mental capacity which afflicts many elderly people, is a recipe for disaster. Downloading a handful of apps and games which were made to alleviate boredom and encourage imagination, sharpness, and skills such as spatial awareness, logic, and lateral thinking, can make a world of difference to their mental health and happiness. 

If that’s not the kind of thing your elderly friend is interested in, there are other options. Community colleges and online schools now have video-based courses curated for older customers. Many elderly people would relish the chance to pick up a new skill during lockdown, or revisit old hobbies that they may have put aside years ago. 

5. Back to Basics with Letter and Postcard Writing

Finally, let’s consider one option which has nothing to do with technology, but which instead goes right back to basics: the art of letter writing. These troubling times present the perfect opportunity to send your elderly friend or relative a letter, a postcard, or a simple hand-written note, expressing loving and caring thoughts, or simply giving them some news that will cheer them up. 

Such a simple gesture can make a real difference to a person’s day – after all, who doesn’t love getting mail through the post? It could be a chance to establish an ongoing correspondence or share memories and photographs the old-fashioned and comforting way. 

Helping the Elderly During The Pandemic: Isolation Needn’t Be Lonely

In short, just because your grandparents or elderly friends are self-isolating, it doesn’t mean they want to be disconnected from the world around them or the modern age in which they live. With a little care, love, and technical know-how, you can make a world of difference to the lives of the elderly around you. 

About the Author
Bernard Brode is a nanotechnology product researcher and believes that it might end up being the biggest tech story of all time.
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