How to Safely "Hug" a Loved One During a Pandemic
By LaBrena Friend, LMSW
If you are concerned about the impact of isolation on an older relative or friend, you are not alone. During the COVID-19 crisis, I’ve seen a decline in the general well-being of some older clients, and research has confirmed that social distancing is negatively impacting both the mental and physical health of many older adults.
The good news is, there are several ways you can safely help an older adult feel connected and cared for. Here are a few practices I’ve found useful while providing support for my clients at CJFS:
- Replace a hug with a “hug” and a smile with a “smile.” Pre-pandemic, an embrace was sometimes the best way to show an older adult you cared. Now, with hugs off the table and masks covering our mouths, your loved ones can’t even see your smile. Since we can’t show the way we feel right now, consider saying, “I’m really happy to see you, and you can’t see it, but I’m smiling.” Sometimes, just reaching out and sending a big “air hug” can help them feel loved.
- Bring a visual aid – If your older friend or loved one is hard of hearing, you may find that when you’re masked, they can’t understand what you’re saying because they’re used to reading your lips. Writing messages on a notepad or small whiteboard can help bridge the communication divide.
- Remember the phone still works – Call your loved one frequently. Share some interesting, upbeat or humorous tidbits from your day. Show interest in what they are doing and thinking. And if poor hearing makes phone conversations challenging, investigate phones with amplified speakers or caption translation.
- Encourage engagement – If your loved one’s synagogue or church is offering online services, you may be able to help them master the technology to attend. Offer to pick up prayer books or Sunday School materials that will make the online offerings more meaningful. Remind them that their friends may be feeling down, and that they can cheer someone up by making a call. Encourage them to exercise, go for a walk or just spend time in nature if they are able.
- Deliver a small gift – If you just prepared a favorite recipe, drop off a serving for your friend or loved one. Don’t cook? A piece of fruit, a store-bought treat, a few flowers or another small gift may also help them smile. Now is also a perfect time to send handwritten notes or greeting cards. Receiving something personal from a loved one or friend is always a treat!
The Professional Social Workers of CJFS provide exceptional support for older adults and their families, with a focus on supporting independence and enriching quality of life. Depending on individual need, services may include coordination of care, monitoring of daily living activities, emotional support, family liaison, planning and support for housing transitions, resource referral and more. To learn more, contact CJFS Clinical Director Marcy Morgenbesser, Marcy@cjfsbham.org or 205.879.3438.