5 ways seniors and caregivers can defeat loneliness

Even before COVID-19, loneliness among older adults was a significant concern. In fact, reports showed that in 2019, Americans over the age of 60 spent more than half their waking hours alone. COVID-19 physical distancing restrictions have magnified this problem, causing increased feelings of loneliness, isolation, depression and anxiety among all age groups, with older adults being at heightened risk. GrandPad, creator of the purpose-built tablet designed for seniors, is offering tips for connecting with family members and older adults.

“Reaching out to an older adult – a relative, friend, neighbor, or someone in need in your community – can have a significant positive impact on their mental and physical health and well-being,” said Dr. Kerry Burnight, PhD, chief gerontologist for GrandPad.

“Any day is a good day to connect with an older adult, but holidays offer a built-in opportunity and reminder to take a pause from our busy lives and reconnect. And, while the current health crisis is making in-person connections more complicated, we are surrounded by technology that breaks down these barriers.”

Not sure what to say or how to reach out and connect with an older adult?

Dr. Kerry provides the following tips:

1. Use technology to reconnect. Video calls, voice texting, photo sharing, and emails can provide a rich connection between seniors and their loved ones. Be sure to use the most appropriate device to accommodate challenges like hearing or vision loss, which many people experience as they age.

2. Ask questions. Ask questions that engage your senior in conversation, encourage them to share memories, and allow you to gauge their emotional state. Questions like, “Because of COVID, I don’t see many people these days and sometimes feel lonely. How are you feeling?” Or “What is one of your favorite memories from when you were my age?”

3. Share a memory. Encourage older adults to share a favorite memory or start by sharing a memory that is dear to you involving the older adult in your life. If this is unfamiliar territory, start by saying, “I’ve been thinking about you a lot and remembered the time we had such a laugh on Thanksgiving (or whatever your shared experience was). Do you have a favorite memory? If so, I would love to hear it.” Then listen deeply and without any rush.

4. Use radio and music to reminisce and connect. Music is a powerful tool with known therapeutic qualities. People living with cognitive impairment benefit greatly from listening to music. Music that is emotionally salient (for example, the song you danced to at your wedding) stimulates a part of the brain that is least impacted by brain disease processes. Listening to local stations or talk radio also provides a valuable connection to the community and world.

5. Allow older adults to give back. Younger generations can benefit immensely from the wisdom and life perspective of people who are in their 80’s, 90’s and 100’s. Intergenerational relationships have been found to have many positive outcomes, including reducing isolation and depression, instilling a sense of purpose in older adults, providing guidance on social interactions and the transferring skills to youth, and decreasing stereotypes across populations and age groups.

“Surviving the pandemic isn't easy at my age: masks, isolation, staying home. But family love makes all the survival efforts worth it. My family means everything to me. They don't live nearby but we ‘see’ each other every day. We are having a GrandPad Thanksgiving and they are even sending a cooked turkey to my home,” said Gay Turner, age 90, GrandPad user.

According to Dr. Kerry, families and caregivers can also help aging loved ones by understanding the following concepts, which have been compiled based on her interviews and experiences as a gerontologist over the past 20 years.

What aging parents wish family and caregivers knew:

  • Even if we don’t say it, we appreciate your time -- especially peaceful, unrushed time.
  • Don’t try to fix everything or lecture us. Let us be frustrated or irritated or sad.
  • Try to remember that we live with pain. Physical pain (like arthritis) and emotional pain (like losing a spouse). We try to minimize it to you.
  • Don’t force us to use technology designed for 20 year olds. It is fraught with problems. Look for solutions that are designed for seniors that have all the functions without the frustrations.
  • When you see us doing something admirable, point it out. Appreciate our strength and ability. And remember that we are resilient problem solvers.
  • Show us you are thinking of us. Plan something to look forward to or share something that is personal between us.
  • Don’t try to wrap us in a bubble so “nothing bad will happen to us.” We are adults and we have the right to make our own decisions; even if you don’t agree with them.
  • If we forget something or repeat ourselves, your patience and respect matter now more than ever.