Ways for Comox Valley seniors to stay connected with family

For many seniors, the "most wonderful time of the year" can be a very lonely one...

As I write this column, I am getting ready to accompany my daughter’s Grade 2/3 class to Stevenson Place.

The children are conducting mini-interviews with some of the seniors and we’ll be bringing a little extra good cheer in the form of singing. With the magical sprinkling of snow out there, there is no doubt that it’s time to dust off the holiday columns.

Holidays are always bittersweet for me.

Being the youngest of four and living many miles away from my fellow Torontonian family members, I openly admit to feeling a bit blue during the festive season.

Don’t get me wrong; I have a loving family here and there are many positive elements to traditions in Comox. But for me, there is always something about missing “home and family” around the holidays.

For many seniors, the “most wonderful time of the year” can be a very lonely one.

According to research done at Ithaca College Gerontology Institute, being 65 and older doubles your chances of spending holidays alone. Add declining health, mobility challenges, inclement weather and changes in sensory (think hard of hearing, failing eyesight) and getting out the door gets that much harder.

The good news is with more seniors using technology or having access to technology, feeling connected can be just a keyboard away. While it isn’t as good as the real deal, here are a few things to embrace technology and connect with your distant loved ones this holiday season.

Please note: I am not overly tech savvy and listed below are some easy strategies for “us” reluctant tech users.

1. Skype is almost as easy as the phone: If my mother can use Skype, you can, too! It is just like talking on the phone but even better.

I love seeing all my family show up on my screen. My daughter can move around, show off her artistic creations and even play the recorder for my Mom.

The hardest part was getting the program set up on my Mom’s computer. The second hardest part was walking her through the process over the phone, several times in a row. I am proud to say she is self-sufficient, one year later.

If you don’t own a computer, consider asking your neighbours if they do and if they could help out. I have many clients who use this method and it works like a charm.

2. Send a movie. We’ve created a DVD to send to our entire family this year. Nowadays, there are endless, user-friendly programs that make great slideshows and movies, all to music.

This option takes some time up front (roughly 10 hours for our eight-minute video) and some skill and patience in editing pictures. This will easily become a new holiday tradition in our home. I can’t wait for my Mom to open it up and play on Christmas Day.

3. Set a remote setting. This may seem a little crazy or far-fetched and yet, when we held our friend’s memorial service and a longtime friend wasn’t able to travel, we simply set up the laptop and camera and Skype did the rest.

It was surprisingly a lovely and personal way to connect and share in a special moment. Sharing a virtual meal may not be such a bad idea although make sure you keep your elbows off the table!

For more great ideas, check out www.tricitypsychology.com/tips-for-connecting-with-elders-during-the-holidays.

Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Solutions. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Thursday.

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