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Staying in contact with virtual visits

Joan Hatem-Roy, Chief Executive Officer

Q: My mother lives in an assisted living facility that currently has an outbreak of COVID-19. Previously, only outside visits were allowed, and now even those have been suspended due to the lockdown status. My mother knows people in the building are sick, but she still doesn’t seem to understand why I can’t visit her. She is hard of hearing, so phone calls aren’t optimal. How can I remain in contact with her?

A: Barbra Streisand song comes to mind with the lyrics, “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.”

Many of us have been struggling with social isolation, and although we may realize this is to protect ourselves, it certainly has not been easy. We miss the companionship of other people.

Older adults who may have confusion, chronic health problems, vision, or hearing loss understandably are truly feeling the negative impact of the restrictions on their daily lives.

Family members need to do whatever they can to stay emotionally close to their relatives. There are ways to try and reduce anxiety for both of you and continue to show you are thinking of them even if you cannot be there in person.

Now is a great time to practice the art of writing letters. Take the time to mention all the things you would say if you were with them. It may bring your mother comfort just seeing your handwriting.

If possible, include recent pictures of the family decorating a tree, lighting the Menorah, making cookies, wrapping packages, or other seasonal activities. Send your mother greeting cards or postcards regularly.

FaceTime, Zoom, and Skype provide opportunities for virtual visits. Inquire what devices are available at the facility and if staff can assist the elder in accessing the technology.

During the virtual visit, make sure to emphasize how important it is to protect each other from the virus, and you will be back to visit as soon as it is possible. Keep the interaction as positive and upbeat as you can manage.

Care packages can be exciting to receive, and the items don’t need to be expensive. Snacks, trinkets, a cozy pair of socks, magazines, and puzzle books are all ideas to include. To add a festive touch to your relative’s room or apartment, send a poinsettia, small potted evergreen, or amaryllis (real or artificial).

It is a good idea to first check with the facility administrator in case there are any limits as to what can be sent. The staff may have suggestions of items to drop off or other ways to remain in contact.

Are you struggling to care for an older adult or having difficulty locating resources? Our experienced staff is available to help. Visit us online at www.ESMV.org for more information. You can also call us at 1-800-892-0890 or email ageinfo@esmv.org. Joan Hatem-Roy is the Chief Executive Officer of Elder Services of Merrimack Valley and North Shore.