Activities and Advice for Self-Isolating Seniors and Their Families

Senior Care

Many of us are spending a lot more time at home these days in order to keep both ourselves and other members of our communities safe from contracting COVID-19, and to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed with patients. Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) , adults over sixty-five years of age are “at a higher risk for severe illness.” Because of this, public health authorities are asking seniors to stay home to protect themselves. 

Those of us who are not in high-risk groups can leave our homes briefly to go for walks, get groceries, and pick up other essential supplies, but these short breaks from the same rooms and walls are not necessarily available to seniors who are trying to stay safe. In this post, you’ll find three key ways that your loved one can fend off the isolation blues: getting exercise, socializing at a distance with loved ones and friends, and tending to their mental health by engaging in activities that combat boredom and loneliness. 

Staying Physically Active at Home

Everyone, including seniors, should move their body every day. This movement can involve simple daily activities like walking through one’s home, moving around the kitchen to make meals, or doing low-impact housework like dusting or washing dishes. The world feels like a much different place these days, but it’s important for seniors to keep up a daily routine that involves movement. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that seniors engage in 150 minutes of “moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity” each week. One of the best ways to achieve this level of activity at home is to follow along with exercise videos. Seniors can find a few favourite videos to follow each week, or if they find themselves getting bored, they can choose a new video for each exercise session. Make sure to look for videos that are specifically geared toward the exercise needs and abilities of seniors. Some YouTube channels to start exploring include Senior Fitness with Meredith , Curtis Adams , and Fitness with Cindy

Some seniors’ exercise classes are also moving online and using video conferencing software. If your loved one participated in an exercise class previously, it’s worth checking to see if it’s being offered over the internet. 

The National Institute on Aging (NIA) suggests that seniors make an effort to do activities that target four different categories : endurance, flexibility, strength, and balance. When searching for videos to follow, try to keep these guidelines in mind and choose a variety of exercises in order to touch on each of these categories. Seniors who struggle with balance or mobility can still enjoy the benefits of movement through seated exercises like these .

Seniors should be sure to warm up their muscles before engaging in aerobic activity, and to listen carefully to their bodies to make sure they’re not overdoing it. It’s best for seniors to check in with their healthcare provider (over the phone or online, at this time) before beginning an exercise regimen.

Staying Socially Engaged at Home

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, isolation was already an issue seniors were facing. Now, when seniors are being asked to isolate for the sake of their health, it’s more important than ever to help our loved ones stay socially engaged.

We are lucky to live in an age where technology allows us to stay socially connected even when we are physically distant. Using video chat software such as FaceTime, Zoom, or Skype will allow you to stay in contact with your loved ones in a way that fosters greater feelings of connectivity than a simple phone call. And you don’t merely have to talk to one another via video chat - you can do things together, too. Eat dinner together, fold laundry together, or listen to the grandkids reading bedtime stories together. This will make it feel more like you’re visiting one another and staying involved in each other’s lives. 

You might consider setting up a schedule so your loved one has online ‘visits’ to look forward to every week - perhaps you FaceTime with them every Monday, and your siblings call on Skype on Wednesday and Friday. It can also be a pleasant surprise to call your mother or grandfather while you’re on break from work now and then, just to chat for a few minutes and to create a moment of connectivity in both of your days. If possible, try and make sure your loved one has someone to talk to every day, both for companionship and so you and/or other family members can check in on their well-being.

You may even wish to hold full family gatherings over video chat. All of your loved ones will likely relish the opportunity to see one another, and perhaps you’ll start a tradition that will continue even after physical distancing rules are relaxed. 

Additionally, it’s important to try to help your loved one stay connected with their friends. If there is a group they usually have coffee with once a week, friends they usually chat with at the grocery store, or people they usually see at their place of worship, see if it’s possible to arrange for these social gatherings to take place over video instead. You may need to coordinate with your loved one’s friends’ children or grandchildren to get this going, but they are probably also looking for ways to keep their elderly family members socially engaged.

Staying Mentally Healthy At Home

Therapists are describing the experience of living during this pandemic as a “ collective trauma .” During this time, it’s essential for all of us, seniors included, to be mindful of our mental health. 

If your loved one has access to an outdoor space like a yard or a porch, and they are mobile, they should make an effort to spend some time outside each day, weather permitting. Fresh air and exposure to sunlight are beneficial to our mental health . If going outside isn’t possible, your loved one can open a window (so long as it isn’t too close to any passing foot traffic) to get fresh air circulating in their home. Even the simple act of opening the curtains or blinds and spending some time in the sun can have a positive effect on mental health. 

Another way to positively impact mental health is to combat boredom, which can worsen the symptoms of “ distressed mental health .” When staying at home all day everyday, feelings of boredom can creep in easily. Socialization with friends or family members is a good means to prevent boredom, as is exercising - which also improves mood.

Seniors can also entertain themselves with activities like reading, doing puzzles, knitting, or listening to podcasts. If these pastimes are growing a bit stale, there are also online activities available , including games like solitaire or mahjongg, “brain-training” games that improve memory, online courses, and social networks geared toward seniors. And if your loved one isn’t too tech-savvy, there are options to help them learn more at a distance, like Older Adults Technology Services (OATS ), which has adapted its programming to focus on digital delivery, and TechServeTO , which provides assistance to seniors who have questions about technology. 

If your loved one’s mental health is suffering, it’s always a good idea to set up a tele-appointment with their physician to discuss ways to tackle their symptoms. 

Things aren’t particularly easy for any of us lately. Our lives have changed, and we have a lot of questions, not all of which have answers yet. This is an important time to look out for one another, and especially to look out for those who are most vulnerable, like the seniors in our families, neighbourhoods, and communities. Until we’re able to see one another face to face again, let’s do our best to help seniors stay physically and mentally healthy, and in close, frequent contact with the people they love.