Loneliness can be very harmful. Nearly a quarter of over-65s feel depressed because of loneliness, and a staggering 1 in 5 keep the telly on just to hear a human voice.
The next few months are going to prove crucial for many older people’s mental health. What with lockdown and the onset of winter, millions of elderly people are going to feel increasingly isolated. By touching base with elderly relatives, you can help them avoid social isolation and monitor their mental health.
Schedule regular video calls
Scheduling weekly video calls is a great way to combat loneliness. An hour a week is all it takes and most families find it easy to squeeze in. If things come up during the week, try to reschedule your weekly video call rather than cancel it altogether. Cancelling a video call may not feel like a big deal to you – your life is probably full of regular social interactions. But for someone over the age of 65, it could mean the difference between feeling connected and not speaking to anyone at all.
If your weekly video calls start to feel a little humdrum, think about spicing things up with a few of these tips:
- If you have young children, ask them to make something and present it to their grandparents. Better yet, if your little ones enjoy performing, get them to practice a scene or song and perform it over the call.
- Zoom quizzes were all the rage during the UK’s first lockdown. So if you’re looking for something to do, why not host a quiz? You can arrange topics and themes before the call and get everyone to split into teams.
- Start a book club. Reading is lots of fun and has been shown to help elderly people feel less stressed and delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Decide amongst yourselves which book you’re going to read then talk about it a month later during one of your calls.
Create a WhatsApp group
When we talk about staying in touch with friends and family, the emphasis is usually on the talking. Not everyone is so keen on talking over the phone though, and some people even experience something called ‘phone phobia’, a type of social anxiety.
WhatsApp is one of the most popular ways to stay connected and has the added benefit of instant messaging. If your elderly loved one is uncomfortable talking over the phone, introduce them to WhatsApp and set up a group of close friends and family.
It may take them a while to get used to instant messaging – you may need to explain the difference between a grey tick and two blue ticks, what certain acronyms mean and what a meme is. But in the end, we’re confident anyone can get to grips with WhatsApp.
Write a letter
Getting back to basics may sound like an odd idea. Regular snail mail takes ages to arrive and can get lost along the way – something emails and text messages can’t do. But the key advantage to sending a letter isn’t its speed or size but its ability to make a connection. Handwritten letters sprayed with aftershave or perfume, or sent with photographs and keepsakes, feel much more personal.
Invest in some nice stationery before writing your letter, something that shows you’ve put some thought into it. Then whip out your pen and get started. Your letter doesn’t have to be gushing or full of deep thoughts. Anything that comes to mind will do. Just make sure you’re open and honest, and ask your recipient lots of questions so they have a reason to write back.
Celebrate important occasions
If you or a loved one has a birthday or special anniversary during lockdown, make sure you plan ahead and remember to celebrate the occasion. It’s not uncommon for those who feel isolated or alone to feel even worse on days when they should be out celebrating.
If an older relative is shielding indoors, arrange for cakes and party treats to be delivered to their home (use a contactless delivery service). That way they can open presents and eat something tasty when you call. Singing Happy Birthday over phone is a nice way to make them feel special too.
Staying connected is all about keeping in contact and talking regularly. However, it’s also important to listen and not overstep other’s boundaries.
Elderly relatives may feel lonely and want to talk from time to time. But they may also enjoy their own company and need their own space. If an elderly loved one says they’ll speak to you in a week’s time, give them the space they’ve asked for and leave it a week before calling them again. If you’re worried an elderly relative isn’t talking because of an underlying mental health condition, be patient and give them time to open up. Often a short message letting your loved one know that you’re thinking of them in between calls is enough to bring them out of their shell.