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10 ways to support an isolated elderly relative

Do you have older relatives who may be feeling very isolated? People in older age groups are already at risk of loneliness and isolation, particularly those living alone and without home internet access, so many could be feeling extremely cut off right now.

Ensuring older people have the food and prescriptions they need is important – but so too is caring for their mental health. Depression and anxiety can widely affect older age groups too, even if we tend to talk about it less.

So, how can we support isolated elderly relatives from afar? Here are 10 ways to help…

1. Create a check-in rota with other family members

Regular phone chats can be a lifeline (iStock/PA)

Could you create a rota with other family members, so that somebody checks in with them every day? You might not be able, or have the capacity, to call them yourself every day. Making it a shared effort is good for everybody’s wellbeing – and you’ll all get to feel more connected as a result.

2. Talk about fun and distracting things on the phone

When you do have those phone check-ins, try to avoid just talking about the pandemic situation every time. Some light-hearted distraction can work wonders for all of us. Not sure what to talk about? How about TV show storylines, ask about their favourite books, share updates on funny things the kids have been doing at home and those ‘creative’ dinners you’ve been concocting.

3. Give them a list of handy helplines

There’s lots of support out there for isolated elderly people during the pandemic – but if they don’t have WiFi or a smartphone, they might not know about it. Do some Googling and give them a list of phone numbers that could be helpful if they find they’re struggling for any reason.

For example, Age UK, Independent Age and Mind all have helplines, some have befriending services that’ll match them with a volunteer for friendly phone chats too. Community volunteer initiatives, such as Covid-19 mutual aid groups, are cropping up all over the country too. Many are using Facebook pages to co-ordinate – so scope out key contacts for their area.

4. Make sure they know there’s help available for shopping and prescription collections

Your relative may be aware of the advice for over-70s to stay home – but they might not know help is available if they’re running out of essentials, or need to pick up a prescription. Or perhaps they don’t want to bother anybody or be a burden.

Make sure they know that support is available and asking for help will not make them a burden – in fact, it is encouraged for everybody’s sake! This is where those neighbourhood support schemes can come in handy. Local councils and the government are also coordinating support for the vulnerable and over-70s.

5. Have a chat to them about scams

You don’t want to add to any anxiety, but it’s a good idea to have a chat with elderly relatives about scams. Unfortunately fraudsters do jump on any opportunity to con people, so make sure they know that nobody legitimate will ever cold call and ask them for money or bank details over text, phone, email or at the door.

6. Encourage them to remain physically active at home

They may be really missing their walks to the shops or swims and Zumba. Keeping active is vital for all of us, to stay healthy mentally and physically. Chat to your relative about ways they can keep active at home. Inspire them with some of the things you’ve been doing yourself. If their mobility is limited, chair exercises and simply pottering in the garden (if they have one) are great.

7. Help them take up a new hobby

Ask them if there’s a craft they’ve always fancied trying, or activities they really enjoy to keep occupied? Perhaps cross-stitch, grown-up colouring books, or even just a stack of crosswords. Right now, it’s still possible to order many things online to be delivered, so perhaps you could organise a fun care package.

There’s lots they can to do keep occupied (iStock/PA)

8. Involve them in some of the fun group calls

We may be physically cut off, but thanks to apps and the internet, people are still finding ways to ‘socialise’, with everything from online pub quizzes to dance parties – which your elderly relative might find fun too! If they don’t have a smartphone or computer, is there a way of just dialling them in on a group call to chat on speakerphone?

9. Share some self-help anxiety tools with them

Many of us now have a string of self-help tools for managing stress, anxiety and overwhelm – from meditation and yoga, to breathing exercises and tapping. Your elderly relative may not be as familiar with all these things, but chances are they could benefit just as much.

How about talking them through a simple breathing exercise? Breathing in deeply to the count of five, then holding for another five, then breathing out to the count of five – sitting or lying down to do this for a few rounds can really help with feeling calm.

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