How to keep connected with older loved ones in the age of coronavirus

Living Well | Blanche Clark | Posted on 26 March 2020

How to maintain strong connections with older loved ones in the age of coronavirus, and why it’s important.

Aged-care advocate, author and comedian Jean Kittson is encouraging everyone affected by COVID-19 restrictions to reach out to their elderly relatives with virtual hugs. Her new book, We Need to Talk About Mum and Dad, has turned into the message: “We really need to talk to Mum and Dad”.

Normally she visits her parents, 95-year-old Elaine and Roy, 92, once a week at their aged-care residential unit, but with the rapidly changing guidelines on social distancing, she’s finding other ways to stay in touch.

Older couple sitting on park bench at lake

“I usually visit my parents once a week, but now I’m ringing them every day. I encourage people to ring their loved ones and give them these virtual hugs.” 

Jean’s book is a practical guide to “parenting ageing parents” and contains personal stories and expert advice on legal and financial issues, Australia’s aged-care system, support programs, palliative care and funerals.

She advises those with elderly parents to make sure they can make decisions around their parents’ health and wellbeing, including becoming a nominee if they need to deal with My Aged Care and Centrelink. “Make sure you are authorised to speak to their utilities on their behalf,” she says. “And understand the differences between acute and chronic illnesses, so you can better understand what medical staff are talking about in regard to treatments they can and can’t offer.”

Council on the Ageing (COTA) Victoria chief executive officer Tina Hogarth-Clarke says we should all look out for older Victorians. “We’ve all become aware of what we need to do to reduce the incidence of COVID-19,” she says. “But it’s important to support older Victorians and to think creatively about how we can stay connected and how we can practise self-care.” 

It’s important to support older Victorians and to think creatively about how we can stay connected and how we can practise self-care.

She says the Australian government’s new strengthened guidelines, which limit the duration of visits to aged-care facilities, restricts the number of visitors at any one time to no more than two, and requires visitors to undergo a health screening ahead of their visit, will help protect aged-care residents. COTA Australia and the health department have released a fact sheet for Australians on COVID-19

But Tina says it’s important to retain connections with older friends and relatives, by regularly checking in and asking how you might help. “A simple trip to the supermarket or pharmacy on their behalf is a practical way to help older people who may not be able to go on their own,” she says. 

Although physical contact might be limited, conversations and connectedness can continue through technology. This includes using face-to-face calls via FaceTime, WhatsApp, Zoom, Skype and Messenger.  

Or write a letter. Australia Post remains open as an essential service during the government’s emergency response plan to COVID-19. 

“Sharing knowledge, our concerns and moments of joy can make the world of difference. Compassionate community building has never been more needed,” says Tina.  

Person flicking through photo album with black and white photos
Older couple chatting to family over the computer

How to keep our elders connected 

  • Rediscover the art of letter writing. 
  • Start a story and alternate who writes the next chapter. 
  • Send a care package. 
  • Share photos or memories online, by email or post. 
  • Pick up the phone and call or FaceTime them. 

For those with a computer, tablet or smartphone 

  • Establish a book club or podcast group. 
  • Form a virtual movie group that focuses on old favourites or a movie on TV or a streaming channel. 
  • Play online free games such as sudoku, word puzzles, Uno and checkers. 
  • Listen to podcasts or an audiobook through a free library service, ABC’s listen app, Apple podcasts, Stitcher or Spotify. 

COTA Information helpline 

1300 135 090 (Monday to Friday 9.30am to 4pm) 

Home emergencies can happen to anyone. Keep calm with RACV Emergency Home Assist