Creative Ways to Stay in Touch During the Pandemic

Sam Kulczak, a junior at Saline High School, visits with his grandmother, a resident of Evangelical Homes in Saline, via video chat. Image courtesy of Mary Rose Kulczak.

Sheltering in place during the COVID-19 pandemic offers a challenge to many families. How can we keep our loved ones safe while still maintaining social interactions? This is especially difficult for grandparents, many of whom are isolated from families due to health conditions. In addition, residents of nursing homes and assisted living centers can no longer receive family visitors since the governor’s orders closed facilities to the public in March.   

 “I think the biggest challenge for residents and families, right now, is just losing that immediate accessibility to each other,” said Kelly Largin, Life Enrichment Director of Evangelical Homes in Saline. “We have always spent so much time encouraging family relationships and asking that families get involved and learn all about us and spend time here…and then, suddenly, we had to stop allowing visitors.”

 While the executive orders have helped contain the spread of the virus for our susceptible elderly population, it has also created hardship for the residents, families, and caregivers.

“There are a lot of emotions that came with that,” Largin said. “Knowing that something is for the best doesn’t always make it easier.”

“I think sometimes you just need to see your loved one,” she said. “It can make all the difference in the world.”

One way that the center has made this possible is through video chat technology.

“One of the first things we did was set up a video chat schedule and get additional technology to be able to make it happen on a larger scale. We have always offered video call options, but they have really been a game changer during this time. We have kept families connected and have also been given an opportunity to connect those from out of state or even out of the country.”

Largin also noted that connecting with family through the mail is another option.

“We have seen an increase in packages and mail as well. This makes a big difference, too! We are available to help with reading and writing letters, and have cards available any time. We encourage families to send us things, too — whether it is pictures, letters, or videos — and we can share them with the resident. We don’t mind using our printers to print things so it can simplify things for our families.”

Drive By and Say Hi

Judith Slater, a grandmother to three, found a creative way to see her family during a self-imposed isolation.

“I called and asked them to line up on the porch so I could drive by and wave,” she said. She also drops off masks that she has sewn when needed.

“Figure out what you need from each other and make it happen, keeping safety the priority,” Slater offered.

Read to your grandparent…and let them read to the grandchildren, too!

“Getting creative is a key to connecting during this time frame,” said Nancy Cowan, director of Saline Area Senior Center. “Technology has been a blessing in this area — phone calls, facetime, Skype, and emails are great ways to stay connected and continue chatting. Technology also makes it possible for us to read books together during this time and share our thoughts on what we’re reading.”

Kelly Largin, Life Enrichment Director at EHM Senior Solutions in Saline Image courtesy of EHM.
Kelly Largin, Life Enrichment Director at EHM Senior Solutions in Saline Image courtesy of EHM.

Get Outdoors

Many families are taking visits outdoors, where they can enjoy face to face (or mask to mask) interactions safely.

“Depending on the phase we are in, outdoor, physically distanced visits or nature hikes with families are possible,” Cowan offered. Sidewalk chalk, arts and crafts, and games can all be enjoyed safely in the fresh air.

This approach worked for Kerrie Kwasniak, a mother of three sons.

“When the weather was a bit better, we started walking from our house to my parents’ house. We would sit on the porch and see them through the window. This helped a lot with seeing them and getting the kids worn out a bit, and it got us out of the house,” Kwasniak said.

Checking In

Cowan had good advice for all families during this time of uncertainty.

“Stay educated and on top of the issues currently, and know the facts without letting fear creep in,” she said. “Check in with your loved ones consistently, just to chat or see what they may need assistance with. Also, know that help is available and we are happy to help connect to those resources. We want everyone to stay safe and healthy! Working together is how we get through this.”