Dr. Gary Fenstermacher
Caring for Our Elders: Staying in Touch
They go by many names: elders, seniors, the elderly, older people. No matter the name you give them, they are typically in their sixties or later years. Right now, in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, they are considered the most vulnerable population. This vulnerability is about more than a threat to life. It is also about the threat of being isolated and alone.
As governments invoke more and more restrictions on travel beyond our front doors, the risk of loneliness and its consequent feelings of depression and despair increase. As these restrictions increase, the need to stay in touch—and the benefits it brings—grows far greater. This is especially true for our elders, whether they live with us, far from us, or in long term care facilities.
What Can We Do?
We are fortunate to live in times when staying in touch without touching is much easier than it once was. The telephone, whether landline or wireless, is the most prevalent and easiest to use. Video conversations, using applications such as Skype, FaceTime, and Zoom are even better. All it takes is a computer, tablet, or smart phone, and an Internet connection, at each end of the conversation.
Establishing the electronic connection is the easy part. Connecting regularly and in ways that are nurturing for the elder offer a bit more challenge. We hardly need prompts when talking with family, though friends or neighbors may take a little more thought. It is amazing the good feelings that come from hearing, “Hi, I’m just calling to check that you’re OK. How are you doing?”
The conversations need not be long, but they should be regular. It helps a great deal if the caller has a few questions ready. Asking questions, over and above the requisite “how are you” shows you are truly interested in conversing with the elder at the other end.
Elders in Long Term Care (LTC) facilities have something of an advantage when it comes to human contact. They are in close proximity to other residents and in even closer contact with the staff in these facilities. Even so, calls from loved ones are very important. As most LTC facilities have curtailed visits from family and friends, telephone and video calls are more important than ever. Staying apart from friends and family isn’t easy. It’s made far more bearable by staying in touch, regularly and with obvious concern for the other person, especially when that person is an elder.
This article was published in The Vail Voice, April, 2020, p. 29
Bio: Gary Fenstermacher is president of Academy Services Corporation, the non-profit owner and operator of Academy Villas, an assisted living residence in Academy Village. He is a former University of Arizona college dean and professor emeritus at the University of Michigan