During the current phase of the COVID-19 crisis, as Americans are being asked to implement social distancing, the Centers for Disease Control has advised nursing homes and long-term care facilities to restrict all visitors except for certain compassionate care situations such as end-of-life situations.  These restrictions are important to safeguard the health of residents and staff alike, but they pose a real challenge for families.  It’s tough when you can’t spend time with your loved one and see for yourself how he or she is doing.  You may be concerned that your loved one is feeling isolated or abandoned.

Here are some suggestions that may be helpful during this time:

  • Contact your loved one’s facility to ask for a phone conversation with staff (ideally a supervisor) who can explain how their routines may have changed during this time.
  • Ask for information on your loved one’s physical and emotional status. Is he/she eating and sleeping normally?  Does he/she seem anxious or depressed? Request regular check-ins to keep you updated.
  • Investigate ways to stay connected with your loved one, such as:
    • Regular phone calls. If your loved one needs help to use a phone, ask if staff can schedule time to help them. 
    • Video calls. There are many tools to use, including FaceTime, Skype, FaceBook  Messenger, WhatsApp and Zoom.  You may even be able to conference in family members from multiple locations for a group chat or virtual “coffee break.”  Some facilities are making their own conferencing capabilities available for this purpose.
    • The old-fashioned way to communicate can still be special – and provide a message your loved one can display and read over and over. Consider dropping a card in the mail with a photo, either an old one of a favorite family activity or vacation (“Mom, wasn’t that trip to the dude ranch the best ever!”) or the latest photo of the grandkids. Have the kids draw a picture or make a home-made card to send.
    • Shared activities. Watch a TV show or an old movie, sing a song, exercise or dance “together” by phone or video. Have the kids serenade Grandma, read a book with her virtually, tell a knock-knock joke, or play an instrument for her.  Or send homemade Bingo or Tick Tack Toe cards and play a virtual game together.  Ask older kids to choose YouTube videos or pet memes to share.  On a more substantive note, this moment may provide an opportunity for your loved one to share stories of personal or historical resilience, providing helpful context for the current situation.
    • Sending a treat. You may be able to drop off or send your loved one a supply of his or her favorite snack, toiletries like hand lotion, or craft supplies and puzzles. If your loved one is in independent living or assisted living, you may be able to order delivery of a favorite meal from a local restaurant. (You’ll want to check beforehand with the facility to make sure this will work.)
  • Ask friends to get into the act. Many people are looking for ways to help others during this time, and sending cards is an easy way to do that.  Share your loved one’s address, and perhaps a bit about his/her background or interests, and see if they’d be willing to drop a card in the mail. 
  • Finally, don’t forget the staff members of your loved one’s facility, who are operating in challenging circumstances. A note of appreciation can mean a great deal to them.  They may also appreciate small gifts such as toiletries or snacks that are individually wrapped, pens and paper pads, small dollar gift cards or lottery tickets.  If your loved one is able, ask them to brainstorm with you about items that staff members might enjoy, and check with the facility about any policies that might apply.