As we get older, it’s easy to feel isolated. We know that a sense of community and connection is pivotal for the health and wellness of seniors, but how to maintain that sense of community when living alone is a difficult conundrum. As we navigate critical public health issues and an uncertain future, it is even more important to stay connected with family and loved ones – near and far.
Even before the pandemic, having a consistent routine of checking in with family and friends was difficult! Adult children have families of their own and are often juggling multiple schedules, and many seniors report feeling concerned about “burdening” their friends. But reaching out, especially during tough times, is vital for our emotional health. In addition, aside from the important emotional benefits of staying in touch, there are myriad long term health benefits. Keeping in contact with loved ones promotes:
- Healthy blood pressure levels
- A strong immune system
- Cognitive function
- Reduced risk of heart disease, obesity, and mobility issues
- Overall longevity
The question, then, isn’t whether you should spend time with family and friends, but how. Luckily, we live in a time when we have a variety of options for connecting from afar. Here are five tips for staying connected with loved ones even when you can’t be together physically.
- Bring back love letters! And not just for romance. There is something so unique about handwritten letters; they can turn mundane content like a description of your daily walk or a recipe into something elegant and treasured. Letter writing is a dying art, and a letter is a gift your friends and family will cherish forever.
- Have a high-tech hangout. With tech tools like FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, Skype, Zoom, and Whatsapp, families and friends can connect through video calls across the globe. FaceTime video calling is built into iPhones, and the other platforms are free to use with an account.
- Collaborate on a weekly happy hour. Schedule a regular time to “hang out” with your friends using one of those video calling platforms, and try something new! Maybe you can all try out a new recipe together, or collaborate on a crossword puzzle. Some video call platforms even have games built in, like virtual charades or hangman.
- Email. Much like the romance of a letter, but faster. It’s also easy to attach photographs to an email, which adds a visual component that makes you feel even more connected.
- Take a virtual vacation. Sure, most of us aren’t traveling right now. But because of the pandemic, many world-class destinations like museums and national parks are offering free, virtual tours. You can call up a friend and explore together from the safety of your own homes!
Tools of the Trade
While technology is expensive it is worth splurging on as a way to keep in touch with loved ones. You don’t need to have the newest, fanciest tech gear, but it is helpful to have these basics:
- A smartphone. They’re not only great for phone calls with high-quality sound – most smartphones have video call capabilities built in, or are powerful enough to host some of the platforms for video chatting in mobile format. Also, smartphones nowadays have really powerful cameras – great for snapping and sharing memorable moments!
- A computer or tablet. These are the best options for video calling – they offer a stable, high resolution picture which means you can actually see the smiles on the faces of your favorite people. These tools aren’t cheap, but by shopping around you can find one that fits your needs and your price range.
- High quality WiFi. Probably the most important aspect of all. If you reside in an assisted or community living situation, it is likely they have high speed WiFi to accommodate multiple residents and their guests. If not, make sure you’re up-to-date with your local provider. You can always call your provider to ask about upgrading your plan to fit your needs – many have offered free or discounted upgrades due to the pandemic.
What matters more than the tools or the tech is the frequency with which you check in with your loved ones. Whether it’s daily, weekly, or monthly, establishing regular lines of communication will help keep up the routine, and bring a sense of normalcy during a strange and scary time. The pandemic has created an even greater sense of isolation for many folks, and that isolation is often accompanied by stress, anxiety, and a feeling of hopelessness. Being connected to your community of loved ones isn’t going to solve all of the problems we’re facing, but it can make you feel better and give you something to look forward to. It’s always a good time to reach out!