What You Can Do
The pandemic requires the age-old wisdom of neighbours helping neighbours. Even if you don’t have family members that need help, look around at your neighbours. It’s incredible the support that some older residents are getting from the people who live in their apartment buildings or on their streets. We need more of that collective caring in the months ahead.
Neighbours can watch if someone on the block stops leaving the house to get mail, shovel snow, or walk the dog. Family members should take note when a loved one stops calling.
Bernadette Otto is a former social worker of almost 30 years, and now Administrator with the South Okanagan Loss Society: “A lot of people don’t reach out when they’re not feeling good because they don’t want to feel like a burden or trouble to others, so you might need to do some friendly prodding and follow-up. Try to stay alert to any changes in communication or behaviour, which could signal that they’re not doing well. Don’t forget to ask about their health and how they are holding up.”
Ask your neighbour or family member if they have enough food and essential hygiene supplies such as toilet paper and soap. Make sure they’re able to shovel walks and take out the garbage safely if a caregiver isn’t available to help.
“These tangible offers of support are some of the simplest ways to show someone they matter,” says Myrna Tischer with OneSky Community Resources. “They will also become really important if we start to have greater transmission of the virus in community, as COVID-19 has more severe consequence for older folks and our neighbours with respiratory challenges.”
Little Conversations Matter
The short conversations that we have with people on a driveway, buying groceries or sitting at the hair dresser can be easy to take for granted, but these small exchanges can mean a lot to people, especially older community members who live alone.
Patricia Tribe is a project coordinator with Aging Well Penticton. In one project, she and volunteers interviewed 66 seniors: “One thing we learned, is that while our programs do help people make friendships, many people were totally fine with social acquaintances. Some people, especially participants in their 80s and up, had experienced losses with family and friends. They were quite happy just having the opportunity for social connections with others. It turns out there is a whole body of social research that demonstrates the positive impact of these micro-interactions and seniors having something on the calendar to look forward to.”
For family and close friends, the most important gifts are your time and the best time to share it is now. “Set up a schedule, rather than wait for when you have free time,” says Patricia. “Then pour yourself a cup of coffee, or glass of local wine, and sit down for 15-30 minutes of friendly conversation.”
Offer Gentle Encouragement With Technology
“The stigma that older adults are averse to technology is not necessarily true”, says Janet Filipenko, who coordinates digital literacy programs with the Seniors Wellness Society. If someone is interested in using technology to stay connected, a tablet or entry-level laptop is a great gift to help people maintain social engagement. It can also help them access services like healthcare, paying bills or buying groceries online.
“Learning how to use technology is absolutely doable, it’s like any other skill that requires patience and practice. Try sticking to one topic at a time when showing and explaining a new application. Encourage their questions and invite them to take notes in their own words so they can refer back to them when they’re on their own.
If your loved one feels hesitant about adopting technology, make it meaningful for them. Tap into their interests, hobbies and what is important in their life. Explore how technology could support that.”
Remember the Safety Basics of COVID
Some older adults need caregivers to continue cooking, cleaning and caring for them. It is always acceptable for older people to ask that family caregivers wear a mask, don’t touch their face and wash their hands often. As long as you’re being safe and following precautions, everyone has to do what is necessary. Ultimately, physical distancing is the best way to slow the spread of infection.
“We know it’s hard when kids are asking, ‘When can we hug grandma again?’” states Myrna Tischer. “People are doing well right now in Penticton, but we’re still not sure who is a carrier and so we need to ensure we use layers of protection when we talk with family, friends and neighbours. It’s even more important to stay in touch with older adults, to make sure they’re safe and coping emotionally with the toll of this pandemic.”