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7 ways to connect with older loved ones during the holidays

Wellness

7 ways to connect with older loved ones during the holidays

With COVID-19 cases at record levels, many families’ holiday traditions are likely to change this year.
For older adults, that break from tradition can be particularly difficult and exacerbate feelings of isolation they may already be experiencing due to the pandemic.
That’s why this holiday season it’s especially important to find ways to stay connected with older relatives, neighbors and friends, experts say. Studies have found that isolation among seniors, who are at higher risk for serious complications from COVID-19, can lead to declines in both physical and mental health.
“It’s important for families make a concerted effort to stay connected with all their loved ones during the holidays this year,” says Dr. Ernie Gelb, a family medicine and geriatrics physician at Tidelands Health Family Medicine at Holmestown Road. “That’s especially important with seniors.
“You may not be able to hug or kiss or touch, but just being there – even if it’s only on the phone or virtually – can elevate them.”

Warning signs

Signs a senior may be feeling the impact of isolation include:

  • Weight loss
  • Confusion
  • Memory loss
  • Lack of awareness
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Poor personal hygiene

“They may stop taking their medications, become dehydrated, withdraw, fail to move around and fail to maintain personal hygiene,” Dr. Gelb adds. “If families see any of these signs, they should contact their loved one’s physician and make him or her aware of the situation.”

Importance of family

In addition to visiting with patients in person, Dr. Gelb says telehealth technology, which enables physicians and other care providers to consult with patients virtually, has helped keep lines of communication open during the pandemic.  
Still, families are usually first to spot signs of physical or mental health concerns with their relatives. 

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“Many seniors come to see me as much for the social exchange as they do as the medical management visit,” Dr. Gelb says. “It’s important for us to have that strong personal relationship, which helps me provide better care because I get a better sense as to what’s going on in their lives and how they’re feeling about it.
“Of course, that free flow of conversation can be a bit more challenging when you’re communicating virtually, which is one of the reasons why it’s especially important for families to make an extra effort to stay connected with older loved ones this year.”
In many cases, Dr. Gelb says, families have already stepped up by equipping their older relatives with larger monitors and tablet computers to allow for better virtual communication. Some have even brought folding chairs so they can sit outside the windows of loved ones in residential facilities, Dr. Gelb says.
“The nursing staff can open the windows so the patients can carry on a conversation with their kids and grandkids from a distance,” he says. “There’s a fair amount of that going on.”

Ideas

Staying engaged with your loved ones this holiday season may require a bit of additional planning and effort, but it will be well worth it. Here are seven ideas:

  • Call or video chat regularly, even if just to check in. To help enhance the video chatting experience, consider providing your senior loved one with a larger computer monitor or tablet.  
  • Plan a small outdoor gathering if the weather is warm enough, making sure to wear masks, wash hands, stay socially distanced and carry hand sanitizer.
  • Create pre-cooked meals and deliver them to your loved one’s doorstep.
  • Organize a virtual bake-off and let your loved one choose which family recipe to prepare.
  • Exercise together during a video chat.
  • Set up a story time session between your loved one and his/her grandchild.
  • Open presents together virtually using video chat. 

Connecting regularly with your older loved ones is key to keeping them engaged and in good spirits, especially through the holidays, Dr. Gelb says.
“If they know their daughter or son is going to be calling them at, say, lunchtime that gives them something to look forward to,” Dr. Gelb says. “That simple phone call can really refresh them and help them maintain a positive attitude, which is so vitally important to all of us.”

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