Life on the inside: 10 ways to help an elderly relative during lockdown

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 during the coronavirus lockdown.

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

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 well-being – and you will all 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 children have been doing at home, and those “creative” dinners you have been concocting.

3. Give them a list of handy helplines

There is a lot of support available for isolated elderly people during the pandemic – but if they do not 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 are struggling for any reason.

For example, Age UK, Independent Age and Mind all have helplines, and some also have befriending services that will match them with a volunteer for friendly phone chats.

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 is 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 are running out of essentials, or need to pick up a prescription. Or perhaps they do not want to bother anybody or be a burden.

Make sure they know that support is available and that asking for help does 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 co-ordinating support for the vulnerable and over-70s.

5. Have a chat to them about scams

You do not want to add to any anxiety, but it is 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 the phone, by text or 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 have 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 is a craft they have always fancied trying, or activities they really enjoy to keep occupied.

Perhaps cross-stitch, adult colouring books, or even just a stack of crosswords.

It is still possible to order many things online, so perhaps you could organise a fun care package to be delivered to them.

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 do not 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 and anxiety – 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 for a count of five, holding for another five, and then breathing out for five – sitting or lying down to do this for a few rounds – can really help with feeling calm.

Breathe In Help GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
Breathe In Help GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

10. Tell them when this is all over, you will plan a lovely visit

We are all just taking things day by day, but for anybody feeling very cut off and isolated, a little reminder that it will not be forever might be very comforting.