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To slow the spread of the coronavirus among seniors, nursing homes and assisted living communities are following CDC recommendations and restricting all visitors, volunteers, and nonessential personnel, with a few exceptions, such as end-of-life situations.

Also cancelled are all group activities and communal dining. Active screening of residents and health care personnel for fever and respiratory symptoms is being implemented.

Because so many people are living in a shared environment and because seniors are at high risk of developing severe illness or dying from COVID-19, these measures are critical for minimizing exposure to the virus and reducing the chance of getting sick.

But seniors are feeling isolated, anxious, and fearful during this time.

And seniors with dementia are especially likely to be scared, agitated, or confused because they can’t understand or remember what’s causing these major lifestyle changes.

We share 6 practical tips to help you stay as connected as possible with your older adult while visitors aren’t allowed in care communities.Advertisement

What’s realistic right now

Some care communities have promised to help residents use computers or tablets to communicate with family, but haven’t yet done so. 

The staff is likely being hampered by the need to spend significant time and effort on frequent sanitizing, testing for all residents and staff, as well as reduced staff due to illness.

So realistically, your means of communication will be limited by what your older adult is currently capable of and the help that the facility is able to provide.

In general, just do the best that you can. Use whatever means of communication that is currently available until a better option becomes available. 

To monitor your older adult’s health and well-being, check in with the facility regularly to find out how they’re doing. Ask if they’re continuing to implement their care plan or if there have been any modifications.

Be mindful that staff will be overwhelmed with calls from family and with implementing measures to keep seniors safe. They’re doing the best they can, so be kind and patient and express your gratitude for their hard work on the front lines.

6 ways to stay connected with seniors when visits are restricted

1. Establish a regular contact schedule during coronavirus
To reassure your older adult that you’ll always be there for them, consider setting up a schedule for when you’ll contact them and stick to it religiously.

Knowing when to expect a call from you can help them feel more secure and connected during an uncertain time. This is especially important if they aren’t able to initiate calls on their own.

If your older adult has Alzheimer’s or dementia, but is able to understand reminder notes, consider writing down a clear call schedule and getting it to them via care package or mail.


2. Talk on the telephone
With texting and video calls, sometimes we forget that a good old-fashioned phone call is a wonderful way to stay connected.

The best part is that your older adult already knows how to use their phone and there’s no set up needed.

3. Video calls on a computer
If your older adult is able to use a computer, consider doing a video call with them. There’s extra comfort and reassurance in seeing someone’s face.

You’ll also be able to better assess their level of health and well-being. And they’ll feel less isolated because they’ll be able to see the face of someone they trust.

There are many video calling options available. Here are a few popular services.

Zoom offers free options and we find that it’s easy to get into the video call because only one person needs a Zoom account. Others can join a “meeting” that the account holder sets up when they send a link via email.

Zoom has great call quality and is also offering extra support and tutorials here.

With visitation changing daily to protect nursing home residents during coronavirus, it's hard to maintain contact with our loved ones.

Skype and Google Hangouts are also great free video calling options.

Get instructions on how get started on Skype here.

4. Video calls on a mobile phone
If your older adult uses a smartphone regularly, they may already have video calling set up, like FaceTime on Apple iPhones.

Additional free video calling services for mobile devices and computers include: Facebook MessengerWhatsApp, Skype (iPhone / Android), Google Hangouts (iPhone / Android), and Google Duo (iPhone / Android).

5. Drop off letters or care packages
If your older adult isn’t able to use a telephone, smartphone, or computer, ask their care community if you can drop off letters or care packages for them.

If this is allowed, put together a bag of basic supplies, favorite snacks, or comfort items and drop it off for them. 

And to remind them that they’re loved and missed, you could include special photos or a handwritten letter. 

If it’s feasible, you could even ask family and friends to send letters to you via email so you can print them out (in large font) and add them to your older adult’s care package.

Pre-clean care packages for safety
With older adults at high risk for serious complications from COVID-19, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

NEJM study suggests that the virus only survives for a few hours on packages, but can live on some surfaces for up to 3 days (like plastic bags or containers).

So if you choose to send a care package, take a few precautions to reduce the chance that you’ll be delivering germs along with it.

First, thoroughly clean all the items you’ll be including in the care package – see our coronavirus cleaning tips for household items here.

Then, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds using the WHO method before putting everything into a bag.

You might also consider using 2 bags. One clean, new bag to hold all the items and an outer bag that can be immediately discarded once the package is delivered. 

Tape a large note to the outside asking for the outer bag to be thrown away and not given to your older adult.

6. Encourage family and friends to send letters and cards
Because the NEJM study suggests that the virus only survives for a few hours on packages and cardboard, it’s less likely that mail would be carrying the virus.

To brighten their day, ask family and friends to send letters, cards, and photos to your older adult. 

Everyone loves to get mail, especially when we’re feeling disconnected and isolated. 

They’ll even be able to keep these items displayed in their room as constant reminders that they’re loved and missed.


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