Bursack: Reach beyond family members with virtual visits for isolated elders
Dear Carol: My dad’s been in an assisted living facility (ALF) for three years and has enjoyed it. He’s very extroverted, so that was one of the reasons he moved there after our mom died.
He can use a smartphone and a tablet for chats, so we’ve been able to take advantage of these devices for contact and even family “get-togethers.” The problem is that we’ve been isolating for several weeks and virtual family visits are no longer enough to keep him engaged. Do you have any suggestions about how we can help him? — BU.
Dear BU: Your dad is an example of someone who chose assisted living in part because of the community aspect and the availability of having nearly unending opportunities for dining and interesting activities. Now, that easy socialization is gone and even the family can’t visit. My heart goes out to everyone in this situation.
Unfortunately, we can’t change reality, so like many others, your dad will have to make do with less. What we can do is be creative and look for options.
Maybe with a little work, you could help him expand his online activities. He’s likely got old friends who are in a similar situation, whether at home or in a facility. Even friends who’ve dropped by the wayside since his move to the ALF might now be less busy and able to visit electronically, so reaching out to them could be helpful. This period of connection might even reenergize those relationships so that in the future they’d visit in person.
Additionally, since many of his former tablemates and activity friends are probably also using tablets or computers, perhaps a group of just these people could meet using Zoom or another app that allows multiple people to gather. The ALF should be able to set this up. The facility staff may know of those living outside of their immediate units who'd like more interaction, too, so if you suggest it, they may be able to expand his online social life.
While many people might be reluctant to instigate communication with others, if they change their mindset to understand that they could be contributing to other’s lives by making themselves available, they might feel better about the idea.
Not everyone is comfortable video chatting
Some older adults might benefit from talking on the phone to communicate in real time without the stress of the video element.
Don't forget other types of online entertainment
A reminder that people can “visit” national parks and even take world tours, some of which have always been free, but others that are offering their services free or for a discount.
Free concerts abound on YouTube and through social media. In my past columns, I’ve named some resources, and a quick check of the archive will bring those up, but an online search should provide much more. Once you’ve found interesting web addresses, you could send your dad an email with direct links to make it easier for him.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached through the contact form on her website.