There is a large growing segment of senior citizens whose lives have become worse than what we think ours is now. For some of the elderly the aging process or a disease has caused them to lose their ability to drive or to walk long distances. Some are widowed or were childless and have no family. Some have limited mobility and sit in their recliner or wheelchair looking out the window, or watching the television trying to pass the interminably long days by themselves.
With Covid mutating and the knowledge of how it often affects the elderly they have less contact with friends or family out of necessity for their protection. Now their main outings are to the doctor for acute situations.
Many of you know about Meals on Wheels. This group of people who usually deliver cooked meals, sit and visit with those clients, are now only allowed to drop off the meals. They can not come in for visits for fear of spreading the Coronavirus to the elderly. These visits were a highlight of the elderly clients’ days.
The smart phone is one modern convenience that most everyone has now. For the older generations these major sources of connecting with others can’t be afforded and even if the aged could afford one, many are past the point of enjoying them because of their complexity and the fact that many may even be intimidated by them.
But most still enjoy their phones. So there is one thing that those of us with a phone can do: we can call our present and former neighbors; call those who are elderly and lonely who we knew in the past. Since you can’t go see them, a phone call can do wonders to brighten their day. We can join others in praying for those who are suffering or send positive energy to them. But there is something else we can do.
Lately I have been calling and talking with one or more of my friends or former neighbors, It’s not quite the same as seeing them but it does feel good to hear the voice of someone I love or enjoyed spending time with in the past.
Sending a card or letter may not be possible due to the potential for spreading the virus and not being sure what germs may be introduced by way of the envelope even if sterile technique is used to put the card or letter in the envelope.
But there may be some anxiety about how to talk with someone you don’t know. I was a nurse for 37 years; believe me I learned a lot about talking with and connecting with perfect strangers. Here are some steps to promote more comfort for you and the one being called.
Ask someone you know to recommend an older person who would enjoy phone calls. They can give you some background on the person. It would be wise to ask the one, who is recommending this senior citizen, some questions to help you be better prepared. Questions such as:would the connecting person tell the older person that you are calling, since there are scammers who would take advantage of the elderly. You also would need to know something about the person you could reach out to.
Ask about the mental status of the person you’re calling, are they normally oriented? (if you call and they are confused, it would be good to know what their normal status is, (just in case they have suffered a stroke or illness.) You could even ask the recommending person to call and be sure the older person would enjoy a phone call from you.
Finding out the mental faculties and physical disabilities of the elderly person. They could be hard of hearing, wheelchair bound, or not be able to speak clearly.
In order to promote comfort for the senior citizen, here are some potential guidelines to help.
Introduce yourself with a brief explanation of who you are, who gave you their phone number and name, and why you called them.
You could ask them if they want to ask you a few questions to help them feel more at ease in these times when there are so many stories of elder abuse.
Find out what they are interested in. If you feel uneasy ask them what they want to talk about. Often older people love to talk about their past experiences; an interesting trip they took; where they were from; what line of work they were in; pets, grandchildren, or great grandchildren. When you think about it, memories may be all some of them have now.
But if they they don’t feel like talking you could ask if they would like for you to share some stories, memories, anything that could be entertaining or related to what you know about them: where you came from, what work you do or did. Try to find a common experience with them to build a bridge to their comfort zone.
If they don’t start talking soon, they may just be quiet people or may not want to ask you personal questions. It may just be a bad time for them to visit over the phone.
When talking with a senior adult, one thought to consider is not to ask anything that sounds probing about their lives because some questions may be anxiety provoking. Questions like where they live may cause them to become suspicious of your motives. If they ask after you’ve talked many times and they feel comfortable then that’s okay. It is a delicate thing to ask this question of someone who doesn’t know you. You could ask what general area they live in: What theater are you near?” or “Do you live downtown?”
Please share any experiences with others if you feel like it, to encourage others to make these calls to help some of our population to enjoy a telephone call even if it may take time for them to feel comfortable with you.