Helping Our Parents Adjust

If your parents live alone, whether near or far from you and your siblings, how are they coping with the “new normal” of COVID-19? If they are shielding, are they feeling lonely? If you cannot see them, are you worried about their well-being? How can you help them while staying socially distant?

As many countries deal with a possible or actual Second Wave of the coronavirus, many older people have been shielding or sheltering at home for over six months. How can we help our parents to face loneliness during the Chagim and a long winter without a vaccine? We asked Rivka Black, who runs the Brain Care Center at Beit Tovei Ha’Ir in Jerusalem, to share some of her insights.

“There is no doubt that many seniors living at home are experiencing cognitive deterioration because of the extended social distancing. There is no doubt that lack of stimulus leads to stagnation and affects everyone’s ability to focus. We are all more distracted because of the situation that is constantly at the back of our minds. For anyone living alone, the days and nights are long and difficult, and it is easy to become confused.”

Staying Active and Focused
Rivka suggested a few activities that people can organize to help their parents stay active and focused.

Simple handicrafts such as knitting, crochet or embroidery can be enjoyable, and even sorting and winding the wool and disentangling the knots can be a satisfying activity for those who are less talented.
Adult coloring books are very calming and stimulating, particularly when the designs encourage choices of color and technique.
Jigsaw puzzles stimulate many cognitive tasks, pass the time and give everyone a great sense of achievement when they are completed!
Games like Bananagrams and Rummikub are fun to play, and Scrabble pieces can be used to make crosswords.
Listening to soothing classical music and old songs that bring back good memories. Perhaps collate a selection of your parents’ favorite songs, preferably using a device that they can operate easily.

Calling for a Chat
There is no doubt that living in an active and supportive community is helpful for seniors at this difficult time, because social interaction helps people to cope better with the challenges that they all face together. Rivka recently led a discussion with a group of Beit Tovei Ha’Ir residents about the challenges of living through the pandemic. One of the issues that came up was the lack of choices in people’s lives. Anyone who was active before COVID could choose where and when to go out, who to meet, and what to buy. They all agreed that they have been dedicating more time to phoning friends that they have not spoken to for a long time. Making lists of people for your parents to call can be helpful, particularly when these conversations are likely to engender positive feelings and trigger happy memories of better times.

10 Commandments for Care Givers
Over 6 years of working at Beit Tovei Ha’Ir, Rivka has compiled her own list of 10 Commandments for Care Givers, which are also very useful for anyone who is supporting ageing parents. For example:

Agree instead of arguing. Don’t try to reason with your parents if they are insistent that something did or didn’t happen. Accept their reality and move on.

Distract instead of shaming. If they repeat questions and statements, try to redirect the conversation without embarrassing them. Distract them with a question about a different situation, to trigger a memory and change the subject.

This Too Will Pass
Some people have noticed that the older generation is actually dealing with the COVID pandemic better than younger people, for whom every day is important and packed with deadlines and goals. They are often more resilient and stoic than we are! Most of them have lived through previous periods of uncertainty and conflict affecting both Israel and their own countries. Discussing these periods of crisis can be helpful in putting today’s challenges into perspective – not just for our parents but also for ourselves and our children!

To request a copy of Rivka’s “10 Commandments for Care Givers” or to find out more about Beit Tovei Ha’Ir and the Brain Care Center, contact info@ toveihair.co.il.

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