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Staying Connected to Your Elderly Loved Ones

I truly believe that we should never underestimate how important it is to our parents that we keep in regular contact. Whether you’re writing letters, sending emails, having video chats, or simply picking up the phone, staying connected with those we love reminds them how valued and appreciated they are.

It doesn’t matter if your parents live across town or, as in my case, on the other side of the world. Keeping in touch brings them deep joy and gratitude, and you might even find that your calls bring you closer together than ever before.

Be patient and consistent  – learning from my personal experience

After I moved to Toronto from my parents’ home in Shanghai, China,I felt a little guilty that I left and so wanted to do something to bridge the distance. I decided to have a quick call with them every day. That was 15 years ago, and I am still calling to this very day. 

However, when I first told my dad this idea he didn’t like it at all. He said he didn’t have that many things to talk about, it would make him tired to think about topics every day, and that he worried that it would take up too much of my time. I ignored him and just kept calling.

To make my efforts more sustainable, I decided to call them from my car on my way to work. It’s quick, light, and they know they are not taking up my time. After a couple of months of these short calls, one day I forgot to call. I got an email from my dad the next day saying he missed my phone call!

Our chats really brought us closer together, even though we were thousands of miles apart. We talked about his parents (my grandparents), childhood, experience in the Cultural Revolution, and his insights on being a good husband and father.

After he passed away, I continued calling and speaking to my mother – every day. We now use video chat to talk about her history, my childhood (which she loves talking about), and her life in China. We both look forward to this daily ritual, which also helps me stay updated on her health and develop trust so she will listen to my advice – although she doesn’t always!

From this I learned to take small but consistent steps. and to do what I could consistently do as part of my routine.

That’s why I recommend that if you stay consistent and patient with your efforts, even if it’s just once a week or month, you’ll stay connected with your elderly loved ones, and continue to bring joy into their lives.

Helping older adults use technology to communicate

For many older adults, learning technology can be scary to the point technology can actually be a barrier to communication. However, once they see how easy it is it to reconnect with old friends, keep up with community developments, and even manage their health issues, they’ll wonder how they ever lived without it!

After all, technology is a tool that’s supposed to make communication easier, not the other way around!

In my case, my dad was an engineer and perfectly comfortable with technology. I bought him the computer and he figured it out on his own. However, it was the complete opposite with my mom. She needs everything to be only one-click away! I arranged for a neighbour to help set up her phone and tablet and be of assistance should mom have any problems. Now, she’s much more comfortable having video calls.

Still, jumping from a telephone to a computer can be overwhelming for some older adults . In fact, research shows that 77% of older adults need help learning new technology. What seems almost like second nature to you might be more challenging to a generation who grew up, went to school, and spent their entire career in an environment without computers. To them, using a computer or mobile device for the first time is akin to learning to walk and then immediately running a marathon!

This is why it’s so important to be patient as you walk them through the steps of using technology, as well as Internet browsers, photo software, and video communications tools such as Skype, Zoom, and FaceTime. Watch their face light up when you send them a text or instant message!

Let them have as many tries as they like to get comfortable with technology. You can help by writing down the steps in a notebook that they can refer to when they need help, and don’t forget to talk about protecting their personal information online and other cybersecurity issues. Before they know, they’ll be the next masters of technology!

How to keep the conversation going with an older adult

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Once you have them set up with technology and are regularly speaking to them, you might find them doing 80 percent of the talking. If this is the case, you’re probably doing it right!

However, you might need some ideas on keeping the conversation fresh and enjoyable every time. Here are some tips to make every conversation meaningful, and have you both looking forward to the next call:

  • Keep it light or “You are right”: Avoid topics such as politics or serious cultural or social issues that can cause stress for both of you, especially if your opinions are very different. If that is the case, keep in mind they are always right!
  • Speak clearly: Some older adults have trouble hearing, so be sure to enunciate clearly, avoid mumbling, and speak at slower pace in a warm, gentle, matter-of-fact tone
  • Be respectful: Always be polite, ask for their advice, and show respect to older adults to help them feel loved and honoured 
  • Listen closely: Listen closely to what your older relative is saying, and allow them pauses in the conversation that allow them to gather their thoughts before they respond
  • Laugh often: A shared laugh can build closeness with your elderly loved one, as long as you’re laughing together and not at their expense

You might feel bad if your elderly relative is alone, and you can’t spend all the time you want to with them. Even investing just a few minutes per day speaking with them will mean more than you can ever imagine. Keep in mind that if they need casual companionship when you’re not available, help is just a phone call away.

Eldercare services in Etobicoke, Mississauga, Brampton and Toronto

CareHop specializes in not only providing professional in-home elder care, we also help with many of the day-to-day duties that make life easier for your elderly loved one and your family. 

This includes homemaking and meal preparation, help with personal care, and  companionship at home or for outside activities so the older adult in your life is never alone or disengaged. Our focus is always to bring joy and sunshine into their lives, and take all the work and worry away about elder care from you.  If you have any questions about our customized personal care services, please reach out to us anytime.

About the Author

Michael Lu is the founder of CareHop, specializing in providing compassionate support for individuals and families touched by Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.