March 27th, 2020 | COVID-19 Helpful Information
Help seniors in your community and you help your community.
Be careful for your well-being and for the well-being of the seniors you want to help. First, remember that the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak places the highest importance on following the instructions of local and national health authorities. Many of the ways we ordinarily help seniors in the community simply cannot be conducted as we usually would, because of the need for social distancing. For the duration of the outbreak and stay-at-home orders, look for ways to help older adults that can be done online or from a distance.
“How am I going to … ?”
You can fill in the blank with “file my taxes, get my garden ready, get my laundry done, meet with my social security office …." One of the recurring fears of seniors restricted to their homes is "How am I going to … ?” No matter your age, if you're forced by a crisis to stay home alone with a lot of time to think, you may tend to worry. And if you think your hands are tied during the general shutdown of restaurants and retail conveniences, imagine the senior whose movements may already be restricted. You could be their “hands.”
“But how am I going to … ?”
You may think, “I'd help, but I don't really know seniors who need it.” That's where a nonprofit organization such as a clearinghouse for volunteers can help you help others. There will be something like this near you. Do an online search for "volunteer organizations" and you'll find one source that connects you to others. Many are faith-based. Some are local, such as your Food Bank. Some are national/global, such as the Red Cross and Meals on Wheels. You almost certainly have a local United Way organization. To find yours, visit the worldwide United Way site. United Way often has a local 211 line dedicated to connecting volunteers with needs. Ask your local organizations about serving seniors specifically.
Help the person who helps the senior. Caregivers need care, too.
Many would love to help a senior close to them or seniors in their communities, but can't shoulder the responsibility of being caregivers themselves. It may never occur to them that they could easily help the caregivers. Caregiving is generally a full-time job – a labor of love, certainly – but a job, nonetheless. It's often a full-time unpaid job on top of another full-time job, like taking care of a family or a career. If you could ease the responsibilities of a caregiver, the caregiver, the senior and the entire community benefit. Maybe it’s, “While your mom is in the hospital, I'll take care of your pets.” That alone can save hundreds of dollars of boarding costs, hours of commuting and a load off the mind of a pet-loving caregiver.
During the time of COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, caregivers may find access to their seniors greatly restricted. You can provide the caregiver with emotional support, at the least. If you can shop online for hard-to-find essentials while a caregiver is at the day job, you could be an important lifeline in saving a day or two, while the senior waits for needed personal care items or food.
Donations have changed shape.
Monetary donations are always great, especially during times of disaster or public health crisis, so you can always send money to organizations like one of the above. Donations of clothing, food and other physical items is problematic due to sanitary precautions attached to a viral outbreak. Many people want to feel that they're giving more than just money or "stuff," because of the simple goodness of giving of yourself. Services, if they can be offered in a socially distant medium, are extremely welcome. Technology is a roadblock for many seniors, unfortunately. A lot of us are probably thinking, “I wish I'd been a little more insistent that Dad learn how to use the smartphone,” right about now.
If you practice a particular profession that would allow you to donate services from a distance, offer these through a nonprofit volunteer organization. Let's say you're a health insurance or Medicare consultant who can't take meetings in person for the duration. You could consult by phone to give peace of mind to seniors who are confused about their benefits vis-à-vis COVID-19. If you're an attorney, you could help with estates. An accountant could be of great use during tax season, since the deadlines have shifted this year. If you're a teacher, why not devise a lesson plan for helping a senior navigate their computer over the phone? You could solve a problem that would serve long after life has returned to normal.
And, once life returns to normal …
What you can do long-term to help seniors? Wouldn't it be a shame to establish a lifeline of service and support and not continue it, perhaps grow it? You could use your down time right now to learn more about the needs of seniors. How much, for example, do you know about the lives of families and loved ones dealing with dementia? You might be amazed at the advances in neuroscience been applied in Memory Care communities. While you're at it, any senior living community can direct you to activities and organizations that will make the best use of your desire to learn and help. You'd certainly see the value in helping. You could focus more of your attention on the aging population and make it part of your conversations with members of the younger population.
We have big shoes to fill, after all. We are the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the Greatest Generation, who certainly know the importance of sacrifice for others. Try this. Call an older friend or relative and say, “There's a lot I don't know about our history that you could tell me. Could we talk?" You may have given the greatest gift anyone can get: someone who wants to know their story.