Amy Schectman is the president and CEO of 2Life Communities, which houses low-income elderly residents in the Boston area. These seniors need somewhere to live, and like all isolated seniors during the coronavirus pandemic, they need social contact.
Are you wondering how to support your own older relatives? Schectman has ideas and perspective.
Pick up the phone.
Set aside a time to call, Skype or FaceTime with relatives as often as you’re able. (I’m calling my own parents every evening and putting them on the phone with my kids, which helps them to feel less lonely and also adds structure to my kids’ already haphazard days.)
Ask leading questions.
Usually you can check in on your parents in person and see firsthand if they seem frail, tired and so forth. No more. So, ask the right questions: How are they feeling? Are they frightened? “Generally, that opens up a lot of different ways you can follow up, such as, ‘Have you eaten today? What have you eaten? Are you drinking fluids?’ Because often people, when they get depressed, they forget to eat,” Schectman says.
Make doorstep drop-offs.
Even if you can’t go inside, you can drop puzzles, books and photos at the door.
To that end, ask how your parents and loved ones are spending their day; engage them on topics like books and movies. (Admit it: When’s the last time you talked film with your parents?)
Ask how you can help.
Now’s not the time to be shy; ask direct, pointed questions about how you can make this uncertain time easier. Do they need grocery delivery? Do they want more information about the virus itself? Can you order them cleaning products, or help to explain what they’re seeing on the news? Ask directly what they’re confused about, uncertain about or scared about.
Yes, it’s a scary time even for healthy adults. But we also live in an area that’s rich in resources. If your parents are local, you can certainly tell them that, while this is daunting, “We luckily live in a time and a location where we have access to the latest information instantly, as it comes out. We’re analyzing that information. We’re reading and carefully curating the information, and taking those responsibilities seriously. The public health world is all united and doing everything we can to flatten the curve,” Schectman says.
Thank them for staying home.
If your parents are active and don’t quite understand that a game of bridge or a trip to the market is needlessly risky, frame your request to stay home as a thank you, not an order. Say, “Thank you for doing your part by staying home, by trying to not increase contacts with the outside world. It’s hard, it’s really hard, but: You’re a big part of the team that’s helping on a larger scale. Thank you for being part of that team,” Schectman advises.
Share stories of resilience.
Older generations have lived through surreal times, too; let them share their wisdom. “A lot of our folks come from states of the former Soviet Union. They say, ‘We’ve been through worse. We are resilient. We know that you get through these things,'” Schectman says. “Someone from Belarus described to me, ‘When the Soviet Union fell, the stores had no food. All the shelves were empty. There was no place one could go. And people were in the streets, screaming. It was a panic, and there were no resources. But we all figured it out and it was horrible, and we got through it.’ They are a lot better at keeping perspective than we are, and there’s a lot of resilience.” Let them share that resilience with you. You’ll feel calmer, and they’ll feel useful in sharing their wisdom, even if confined at home.
Pull in reinforcement if needed.
Don’t go it alone: Call a disaster distress helpline at 1-800-985-5990 if you need to. “It’s a 24/7 national hotline that offers crisis counseling for emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disease or disaster, including COVID-19. And it’s toll-free, multilingual and confidential,” Schectman says.