20 Ways for Older Relatives to Stay Connected With Loved Ones While Social Distancing

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Alleviating Isolation

The social distancing rules emerging in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic have been challenging for the best of us, but they can be particularly isolating for seniors who may be stuck at home alone for weeks on end feeling cut off from society and their loved ones, including grandchildren. Without the company of family and friends or the ability to participate in regular activities outside the home, it can be hard to fend off loneliness. In fact, a report from AARP says social isolation and loneliness are serious health issues. To help combat this, it's important to find new ways to regularly connect amid the social distancing and self-quarantines. "Remaining connected is especially important for people who live alone; regular social contact can be a lifeline for support," according to the AARP report. Here are 20 suggestions for staying connected with older relatives while social distancing.

Related: 20 Small Things You Can Do to Make a Big Difference in the Pandemic

Craft Project
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Create an Art Project That Can Completed Together Via Mail

Tennessee resident Anne Armstrong is helping her family stay connected with her elderly mother in Kentucky, whom they've not been able to see amid the pandemic, by working on art projects together through the mail. "We are in the process of doing a handprint project," says Armstrong, a mother, teacher and founder of My Gnome on the Roam, toys that help families create adventures in their backyards, kitchens and across the world. As part of the project, each family member can contribute a handprint and mail it to one individual who assembles a large collage that can be framed as a keepsake.

Start a Pen Pal Interview Activity With Grandchildren

Start a Pen Pal Interview Activity With Grandchildren

Similar to art projects that can engage elderly family members through the mail, Armstrong has also started a pen pal activity between her children and her mother. "We send interview questions and she replies with the answer," says Armstrong. "I'm compiling these into a book." There are so many questions children can ask their elderly grandparents, she adds, such as "Tell me a memory you have of when you were my age," or "Tell me about your parents, or how was school different when you were a child."

Complete a Craft Project

Ask an Elderly Relative to Make Something for You

The elderly feel connected when they feel useful, says Sirarpi Sahakyan, a relationship expert for Self Development Secrets. "Ask them to paint or knit … Pretty much anything that they like doing and would love to see it being useful," says Sahakyan. "Likewise, do something for them in return." Whether you make something special for an elderly relative yourself or have something delivered that they need, the ongoing exchange will create a continued connection and something to talk about.

Virtual Family Dinners

Have Recurring Virtual Family Dinners

With the video technology that's available today via Facetime and Skype, there are so many possibilities for virtual connections. Casey Rydbick, founder of Senior Care Center, suggests scheduling recurring video calls for dinner that take place on the same night each week. "Families and seniors can even coordinate having the same meals and preparing the meals together over the video chat," says Rydbick. "The use of video chat can greatly increase an elderly person's connectivity and feelings of inclusiveness during an activity like this. Having dinner is obviously something we all need to do, and since it's already a part of our lives, having a regularly scheduled video chat can help family members, as well as senior loved ones, feel included in regular daily life, and maintain a sense of unity and togetherness in these stressful times."

Play Games Over Video Chat
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Play Games Over Video Chat

Playing games is a popular activity when grandparents and grandkids, or families in general, get together, says North Carolina resident Maura Horton. "The classics like Monopoly, Life, checkers, and Scrabble, are a hit with all generations and keep kids of all ages, and the kid inside adults, entertained," says Horton. "Since you can't be together try playing games virtually … You can watch each other make moves via video chat." Bingo is another game that can easily be played from different locations virtually. "This is a whole new level of playing games that can cause even more laughter, which we all need right now," says Horton.

Related: These Fun Family Games Can Get You Through Until Coronavirus Is Contained


Create a Virtual Book Club

Pick a book that you and your elderly relative both read (or listen to via audio book) and then plan to discuss it together at some point every day, or every other day, suggests Carol Povenmire, a California-based licensed psychologist and Cheapism contributor. Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea" is a book that comes highly recommended for seniors, but is also one that is often assigned to younger generations as required reading in school. The site Goodreads has cultivated an entire list of popular books for senior citizens, many of which have themes that would appeal to multiple generations, such as "Major Pettigrew's Last Stand," which is set in a small English village and includes a cast of hilarious characters.

Participate in a Shared Learning Project Together

Participate in a Shared Learning Project Together

Another challenge with seniors is the need for stimulation and new learning, says Povenmire, the California-based licensed psychologist. To help address this particular issue amid isolation, you could suggest engaging in a joint learning activity. "This can include taking a language lesson and quizzing each other on vocabulary or agreeing that each of you will learn about a different country, animal, or historical figure and share that with the other," says Povenmire. "This can be adjusted to include different generations in the family."

Video Call

Plan Regular Talks to Discuss Current Events Together

You can also help seniors stay engaged in current events by suggesting that each of you regularly identify a news story or human-interest article that intrigued, amused, or surprised you, and then discuss it together, says Povenmire. "Exchanging information about current events is a good way for people who are alone to be abreast of important news that may affect them or to learn about resources in the community," she explains.

Have a Virtual Art Night Together

Have a Virtual Art Night Together

Families and seniors can watch a step-by-step painting or drawing tutorial simultaneously online and then practice together, sharing the results, says Rydbick, founder of Senior Care Center. There's a variety of multi-generation friendly options on the YouTube channel Art Online Tutorials– everything from how to draw mountain landscapes with colored pencils to how to draw a portrait.

Video Call

Play Games Together on the Houseparty App

With people around the world being quarantined, the Houseparty app has suddenly become a sensation. (Even Camilla Parker Bowles is said to have downloaded it.) The beauty of this easy to download app is that several people can talk at once, allowing an elderly family member to see and talk with multiple family loved ones on a single call. In addition, the app can be used to play games together. Up to eight people can participate in games, including trivia. And finally, you can send an elderly relative video mail on Houseparty, or "facemail." These video messages appear when the user opens their app.

Paying Too Much for Entertainment

Organize a Netflix Party

Watching a movie or a television show simultaneously with an elderly loved one is yet another option for connecting, says Rydbick. This can be done with the help of Netflix Party, which synchronizes the playback of whatever video you choose and creates an option for group chat with Netflix shows. Or you can do it the old fashioned way and just turn on a movie at the same time while remaining connected and chatting via Skype or Zoom as the movie plays.

Related: Netflix, Amazon Prime, and 18 Other Streaming Services: Which Is Best for You

Explore Spirituality
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Attend Online Spiritual Services Together

If your family follows a particular religion, consider finding online services to attend together, says Rydbick. "Many (online religious) video services will have a feature where viewers can even interact with each other online," says Rydbick.

Send Homemade Cards

Send Homemade Cards

Get out the crayons, construction paper, and markers and make your elderly relative a homemade card, says Mary Koczan of Gift Card Granny. "Get the whole family involved," explains Koczan. "Or, if you prefer, take the time to write a personalized letter letting them know what you've been up to, what you miss about seeing them, and be sure to ask for a letter in return. This way everyone can keep in touch and has something to look forward to when the mail comes."


Send Pictures in the Mail

Writing letters and sending cards is one way to stay connected, but mailing an envelope full of pictures is yet another way to brighten the day of an elderly loved one, says Melanie Musson, who writes about mental health and wellness for the life insurance site Quick Quote. "Each week, print a couple of pictures from each day," says Musson. "Write the story of what's happening on the back of the pictures and send them to your elderly relative or friend. This idea is perfect for seniors who aren't very savvy with the internet."

Video Call

Arrange Regular Family Zoom Meetings

Four weeks ago, when her family started sheltering in place, Pennsylvania resident Jennifer Bright started a weekly family Zoom call and it's been a smashing success. "We have five generations on the calls (ranging in age from one to 86). They are funny, supportive, poignant" says 49-year-old Bright, founder of Bright Communications. "We are in four different states and I feel more connected to my family than I ever have. We've had three so far and they have been wonderful."

Related: 20 Hacks and Tips for Video Chatting on Zoom, Hangouts, and More 

Video Call

Organize a Family Slideshow Via Zoom

Marisa Pasquini, an expert on dementia care and author of the book "Surviving Dementia Without Losing Your Mind" suggests taking those Zoom gatherings a step further and using them as a time to walk down memory lane together, visually. "Have the family archivist put together a family slideshow via Zoom's screen-share feature. The shared memories can bring family together and give older relatives a sense of belonging during this time of isolation," says Pasquini.

Online Piano
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Participate in a Virtual Art Tour or Concert Together

While just being able to see loved one's faces will lift a senior's spirits, you might also consider taking part in virtual cultural activities together, says Annette Fields, executive director of Vineyard Johns Creek, an assisted living community. Some of the options Fields suggests include tours of the National Art Gallery in Washington, D.C.; or the British Museum. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam also offers online exhibits. Virtual concerts that Fields recommends include classical music from Wigmore Hall in the United Kingdom and free streaming operas from the Met.

Virtual Lessons

Schedule Virtual Lessons

Is there a skill or something you've always wanted an elderly relative to teach you? Now may be the time to call on them to provide lessons – virtually via Facetime, Skype or some other similar platform, says Horton, The Care Coach. "Set up virtual lessons for your kids or grandkids of things you always wanted to teach or they always wanted to learn but there was never time for – teach them how to knit or sew, or give cooking lessons."

Create a Family Recipe Book
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Create a Family Recipe Book

Enlist senior relatives to help develop and compile all of your beloved family recipes into a book during this time, something that can be passed down to children or grandchildren. "The recipe book can be a printed copy or a digital book. Get creative with it," says Horton. The recipes can be emailed to a single person to compile into a book, or handwritten and mailed. You could even include photos of the cooking process and finished dishes in the final book. "You can easily have a book printed online so it looks professional," adds Horton.

Leave Flowers, Groceries or Gifts on Their Front Porch

Leave Flowers, Groceries or Gifts on Their Front Porch

We may not be able to go inside for an actual visit, but if you are within driving distance from an elderly friend or loved one, you can drop off a package that lets them know you care, says Lynell Ross, a certified health and wellness coach and founder of the education website Zivadream. "Bake a cake, or make a batch of your favorite soup to drop off with the flowers to save them from making a meal," says Ross.