John Prine was only 24 when he penned the iconic American folk song “Hello in There.” As a young man with a bright future, he could have written about anything. But his breakout single was instead a public service reminder to look after our seniors and help them fight loneliness. Sadly, we lost John Prine this month, but his message of caring for older folks in isolation is needed now more than ever.
Help fight the effects of loneliness
Right now, our best shot at stopping COVID-19 is social distancing. Sometimes this means pretty drastic measures, which are prone to creating effects of loneliness for people of every walk of life. I feel it, and you feel it. This social isolation can have a serious impact on our mental health. Many seniors already experience feelings of depression due to lack of engagement, and being on lockdown can make the struggle even greater.
In addition to doing everything you can to stop the spread of the virus, consider some ways that you can help seniors in your community stay engaged and loved during this time of increased isolation.
Start by picking up the phone
Think about the seniors who are in your life—grandparents and other elderly family members, former educators and mentors, fellow church members, etc. Give them a call and ask how they are doing, and if there are any needs they need help meeting. Let them know that you are there for them.
Here are some ways you can help lift their spirits with a simple phone call without compromising their health:
Ask them to tell you stories: Nostalgia can be a great comfort in times of worry and loneliness. Your grandparents will love sharing stories you probably never knew about their childhood.
Listen to music together: Find out what kind of music your grandparent loves, and ask if you can play it for them over the phone. I did this with my grandpa, and he even dusted off his old record player to play me some of his favorite albums!
Sing: If playing records was a hit, and you like singing, why not give this one a try?
Read aloud: Poetry, short stories, religious readings are all great things to read to elderly loved ones (given their preferences of course), especially if they are vision-impaired and unable to play audiobooks.
Send postcards: Sending letters may be better, especially for those with difficulty hearing or speaking over the phone. You can send photos of yourself, your children, all kinds of things to lift a person’s spirits. Just exercise extreme safety measures by washing your hands thoroughly, and using masks and gloves as you prepare the materials.
Get creative with technology
If your elderly loved ones aren’t already connected to the internet, take the opportunity to help them do so. They will love being able to see your face when you chat, as well as see photos, watch inspirational videos you share with them, etc.
Here are a few ways you can entertain an elderly loved one online:
- Work up a little song/dance routine to record with the kids and send it to them.
- Take them on a virtual walk through your neighborhood.
- Do arts and crafts together.
- Record videos of your pets.
- Have your children draw pictures and show them off.
- Find YouTube videos of their favorite recording artists and share them.
- Play cards or board games and make a “family game night” out of it.
Also take care of non-relatives
If you don’t have elderly loved ones in your life, or if you have extra time to go above and beyond, look outward even further into your community. Houses of worship generally have ways to connect you to senior citizens in their congregations who need help. There are also loads of Facebook groups dedicated to helping spread kindness to those in need of cheering up, as well as providing basic needs.
Don’t forget to help also by donating time or resources to charities that directly help seniors in your community, such as Meals on Wheels.
It’s all too easy to feel unsure of what to do during a pandemic. But for the benefit of our beloved elders, there’s always time to stop and say: “Hello in there.”
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