Holiday Season During a Pandemic: Staying Connected with Your Aging Parents

In any other year, the holidays are a great reason to spend quality time with our aging parents.  We get to see firsthand how they are doing, often in their own environment.  We can see if early issues need to be addressed or if there are any outward signs of decline. After all, who knows our parents better and can advocate best for them than their adult children?

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned our well-disguised wellness check upside down.

As our parents are firmly entrenched in the “vulnerable” segment of society, the Center for Disease Control recommends to limit, and even avoid, unnecessary in-person contact. Where in-person visits were once encouraged, we must now connect from a distance. Many of us have stopped visits for fear of transmitting COVID-19 to our parents; or have had to refrain from visiting due to the implementation of new policies and restrictions in skilled nursing and assisted living communities.

So, how do we stay connected, and get an early warning as to any potential issues for Mom or Dad?  Fortunately, there are many more methods now to stay connected in a socially distant world.

  1. Putting eyes on parents through video calling. 

    While not as beneficial as in person visits, free apps, such as, Zoom, Face Time, and Skype make connecting easier. Make sure your loved one has the equipment necessary: FaceTime video calling comes standard on iPhones while Zoom and Skype can be used on a variety of devices.  The best apps are the ones that are easiest to use.  If your parent is staying in a facility, contact the organization to find out their policies and procedures to ensure that there is someone who can assist in setting up the equipment.

  2. Go old school with “snail mail”.

    Seniors come from a generation of letter writers.  This was the dominant form of communication for many decades.  There is nothing better for a parent to receive a heartfelt letter, something to be loved and treasured.  More importantly, make sure they have cards and stamps to reply back.  Written letters from a parent may provide insight as to changes in their mental acuity.

  3. Learn something new.

    Take a virtual vacation together without having either one of you leave your home. While most museums, national parks and popular tourist attractions are closed to the public, engaging your parents mind through exploration virtually will have many benefits.  Virtual tours can be scheduled for such interesting places as Machu Picchu in Peru, The Louvre Museum and the Vatican.

  4. Talk with your parent’s caregivers.

    Caregivers are often the first ones to notice if problems are occurring. Also enlist their help to assist your parent either with virtual calls or letter writing.

  5. Call, call, call.

    Use the phone to connect with your parent. It may seem low-tech, but phone calls are still very effective. According to the Center for Disease Control, social isolation has been associated with about a 50% percent increased risk of dementia.

  6. Window visits.

    If your parent lives in a long term care facility, work with the staff for a window visit.  While no hugs are allowed, at least you are getting closer to a normal visit.

  7. Ask for a care conference.

    If you have concerns about a parent’s well-being in a nursing facility, ask for the staff to schedule a care conference. This conference should include members of your parents care team and give you an opportunity to review their current status, any recent changes, and clearly understand the written plan of care that the health care team has developed to meet your loved one’s needs.

The pandemic will no doubt last for several more months.  Families need to find smart, safe ways to stay connected.  This will not only brighten Mom or Dad’s day, but will also give you peace of mind that no undetected issues are beginning to take root.

Founded by a nurse attorney and with offices in Acton, Burlington, and Sudbury, Massachusetts, Generations Law Group helps families navigate the complex areas of estate planning, elder law, and probate to inform and protect loved ones of every generation.