How to Stay Connected With Elderly Relatives in Quarantine

My 95-year-old grandma is in quarantine at her nursing facility. Here are a few ways my family and I are staying in touch and lifting her spirits.

Grandma Patty in her nursing home.
Grandma Patty in her nursing home. Photo: Courtesy of Patty Wood

My son and I have been having brunch with my 95-year-old grandma, Patty, every Sunday for years. She likes tea served boiling hot, the healthy morning breakfast sampler, and all the jelly packets you will allow her. She's as smart as a whip; she gets her hair done once a week; she dresses impeccably every day; and she's still very conscious of her figure as last I heard she still wears a girdle.

She's so many wonderful things, and currently all of her wonderfulness is being kept behind closed doors. Due to COVID-19, Grandma Patty is currently in quarantine at her nursing facility. No Sunday brunch, no hair appointments, no visitors.

While the COVID-19 quarantine has done a number on all of us, it can be exceedingly trying on those who are truly being isolated from the world for their own safety.

For some, this isolation can lead to heightened fear, anxiety, and depression, explains David Rusbasan, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Marian University. That's especially true as we age. "When someone's older they are more likely to become bored. When they become bored, they are more likely to ruminate on the negative thoughts," says Dr. Rusbasan. Those negative thoughts are what can lead a person to things like depression, anger, and/or resentment.

At Hooverwood nursing facility in Indianapolis the staff is working very hard to keep residents like my grandma upbeat, connected, and active, says Bonnie Glass, director of activities and volunteer services. "We have been bringing activities to rooms at a one-on-one level—crafts and puzzles," says Glass. "And we play movies that can reach everyone in their rooms."

The residents there are holding up pretty well overall and are staying very busy, adds Glass. But beyond staying busy, it's important to stay connected to loved ones, especially during a quarantine, stresses Dr. Rusbasan. Research published in The Lancet in February about the psychological impact of quarantine shows the "ways to minimize negativity associated with boredom was to activate social networks virtually, maintain clear lines of communication with loved ones, and possibly join a virtual support group," says Dr. Rusbasan.

Luckily, there are advised steps you can take to help ward off the fear, anxiety, and loneliness that might ensue from being quarantined. "Limit news consumption, keep a daily routine, maintain a healthy lifestyle through diet and exercise, and stay virtually connected," says Dr. Rusbasan.

As for staying connected to your parents or grandparents who may be in the same situation as my grandma, Glass offers some creative ideas that she has seen working.

Send video messages back and forth. This is a great way to catch each other up on your day. FaceTime is great for this and often more appreciated than an email or letter. "The handwritten letters are nice, but they want to see your faces," advises Glass.

At my grandma's nursing home, they've been implementing a lot of FaceTime and Zoom chats for the residents. "Employees are using personal phones and business phones in order to help their residents connect," says Glass. Many of the residents are also pretty tech-savvy and have their own devices, which helps maintain their connectivity. "I helped a resident order DoorDash (food delivery) just the other day," adds Glass.

Schedule window visits with your loved one. This is basically an appointed time for you and your loved one to meet at a window for some face-to-face time. At Hooverwood, they are even working on scheduling window visits with pets as well.

Deliver care packages. These can be filled with pictures of the kids, small gifts, and a favorite snack. At my grandma's facility, you are allowed to mail gifts or make arrangements to deliver items. Just make sure to speak with the nursing home of your loved one first.

Drop off food from their favorite restaurant. "Our residents miss going out to eat so we are coming up with fun ways to deliver food to their rooms, like in Chinese food takeout containers or pizza boxes," says Glass.

And of course, before bringing or shipping in anything from the outside, use the recommended hand hygiene practices (at least 20 seconds with soap) to ensure germ-free gifts.

My family will miss our regular Sunday brunch with Grandma for the next few weeks, but we are grateful knowing she's being kept safe and being cared for. Plus, I know she's keeping busy: I just saw on Facebook she is working on a TikTok video.

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