Today, due to the threat of COVID-19 on our health, our personal relationships have suddenly changed (literally overnight) with our friends, coworkers, neighbors, fellow church members, social group members, and even family members living outside of our immediate homes. Where once we were free to meet and socialize with physical touch in a personal circle, today we are forced to avoid personal and physical contact, even avoiding others with a minimum of six feet of space between us. In fact, most of our interactions with friends and family outside of our immediate home have been reduced to phone calls, once-in-awhile texts, or tagging them in social media accounts. Occasionally, we will have Facetime/Live Video visits with family members or zoom meetings with coworkers, but still, that doesn’t provide the personal connections that we, humans, need. Yes, we NEED physical interactions to thrive and keep our mental health in a healthy state.
But during this time, can we truly maintain healthy relationships with loved ones outside of the home? The answer is YES!
Many of us reading this article have a loved one in a facility, whether it is at an Assisted Living Facility, Memory Care Facility, Group Home, Senior Apartments, Skilled Nursing Home, Hospital, or other CBRF. Even though our loved ones may be in a facility in town, they feel far away during this time. Can these “long” distance relationships be maintained during this time of COVID-19 with NO VISITOR policies? Again, the answer is YES! But how can we continue to maintain these relationships when we can’t visit our loved ones?
Long-distance relationships have been going on for such a long time now. I think we all know a story of love through a long distance. My own grandmother and grandfather were able to maintain a long-distance relationship during World War II while my grandfather served overseas for years during the war. They were able to communicate through letters and pictures sent back and forth to each other, and after my grandfather returned, their marriage continued and was successful. Long-distance relationships have been successful for years with countless couples successfully keeping a relationship and maintaining the relationship through distance and time.
My son is currently serving as a proud member of our US Military. He has been gone for three years now, yet we still maintain a strong and healthy relationship. Thankfully, technology allows us to improve our frequency and time between connections: through phone calls, photos, social media posts, and Facetime calls. But, we still send letters to each other too. We don’t let physical distance stop our love for each other. Even though we can’t hug each other, we find other ways to smile and connect. Words are powerful and comforting.
And, connecting with loved ones in facilities is VERY Important right now. As a hospice nurse during this time of COVID-19, I’m seeing the effects of disconnect on facility patients, I’m seeing the sadness and loneliness in their eyes, and I’m seeing the physical effects this is having on them. We need to reconnect with loved ones in facilities during this time. Connections can not be physical at this time, so we have to find alternatives for the mental health of your loved one living in a facility.
Connecting is a human need and helps maintain a healthy mental state. Your loved ones need you now more than ever during this time of isolation. Your loved ones in facilities need to know you are still there and they need you to connect with them on a personal level, they need you to help guide them and create a long-distance relationship.
My own 97-year-old grandmother is currently living in an independent senior apartment complex that is locked down to visitors from coming in, and from her going out of the building. Yes, she felt confined for a while so the family all coordinated times and days to call to chat/check-in with her. She now loves the connections she is having with her family with letters and phone calls. She also gets puzzles and mind challenges delivered to her door from the facility complex staff that she looks forward to working on and completing successfully, and admits that her attitude is much better now and feels happier and less confined.
Creating and Maintaining a relationship with your loved one in a facility is really easy to do, but will need someone to initiate the plan – YOU can do this!
- Start by calling your loved one on the phone. You don’t have to talk long, just call and tell your loved one story about something you read or watched on television – something positive, of course. NOTE: If your loved one doesn’t have a phone – call the facility and have them put your loved one on the phone (demand it). *And YES, do this even for your loved one who has dementia or might be in memory care. They might be forgetful but, as Maya Angelou said, “…people will forget what you say, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
- Reach out to other family members and assign each of them a day of the week to call your loved one in the facility. Your loved one in the facility does not need a phone call every day (the more the better, of course). Read #1 above to each of your family members – remind them that they don’t have to talk long at all (sometimes trying to figure out what to say on the phone to a loved one in a facility can be overwhelming to some people, give them simple guidance and let them know they don’t have to talk long). Try to make it a goal to have your loved one receive three to four calls a week total. Again, the more the better.
- Send a simple letter or card to your loved one. Just like a phone call, the letter does not have to be a long letter. And, you can type it and print it out (use a larger font) if you don’t want to handwrite the letter. I see my patients eyes light up when they see a letter/card addressed to them – just seeing the envelope addressed to them brings their spirits up! Try to send one to two cards/letters a week.
- Reach out to other family members and ask them to send a letter to your loved one in the facility once a week. Again, nothing long is needed, but instead simple and positive works just as great.
- Have extra time? I have been sending my grandmother free printable trivia questions or puzzles or mind challenges weekly (google search will help you find all different themes). I print out the worksheet, fold it, and put it in a business envelope (with a little post-it friendly “hello” to her). Then, I print out the answers and place it in a smaller envelope, seal it, and put “answers” on it. She loves getting mail, and having an activity to keep her busy and challenged is a good thing to pass time.
Feeling more creative? Draw or color a picture and mail it to your loved one. Copy a poem, cut out an article from a magazine (even if it is an older magazine in your home), or a clipping from a newspaper. Send a craft project, or send them a craft project you recently completed. Send a clipping from a flower in your yard! Any mail is better than no mail at all.
There is also technology you can use including Facetime, Skype, and Zoom meetings to create a connection with your loved ones in a facility. This can be challenging for older adults and would need assistance from willing caregiving staff members, but when they do see their family on the screen talking with them – oh, do they really, light up and smile.
Challenging times will challenge each of us to find ways to overcome and march on. We must stay positive, and help our loved ones living in facilities feel the love from family. Yes, it is true: “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”. Use this time away from your loved one living in a facility to create a long-distance relationship to help him/her continue to feel the connection to their family. Start this today! Because we are only promised today and don’t even know what tomorrow will bring.
Visit http://www.hospice-101.com for more information about hospice, and/or to access other hospice blogs and articles.