As part of our “Love Essentially” series, Jackie Pilossoph helps us navigate the complex world of relationships. Have a question that you would like her to answer? Contact her here, and it may be featured in an upcoming article!
While walking through Gallery Park in the Glen, I sometimes see elderly adults pushing a stroller or walking and holding the tiny hand of a toddler. I have to assume they are grandparents, not just because of their age, but because they don’t have that weary, tired look that some young parents have. Bursting with energy and pride, grandparents almost always have a happy glow about them.
Grandma and Grandpa — the sweet, calm, loving people who send birthday cards with cash, who babysit on Saturday nights, and who cook and bake everyone’s favorite dishes on holidays are the best. They are so loved, in fact, that they have their own holiday, Grandparent’s Day, which is Sunday, September 13th.
But there’s something else going on with some grandparents that is sad and scary; social isolation. Covid-19 has forced so many seniors to social distance and self-isolate at home, leaving them with an increased risk for both medical and emotional issues.
According to the CDC, recent studies have shown that social isolation increases the risk of dementia by 50%. It is also associated with a 29% increased risk of heart disease, a 32% increased risk of stroke, and a 57% increased risk of an emergency room visit. Additionally, loneliness is associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicide.
Alita Arnold, RN is an on-staff nurse at Home Care Assistance, a North Shore based senior caregiving agency. Arnold, who is also a Certified Dementia Care Provider said social isolation is not a new problem. In other words, it was a big issue before the pandemic, but that Covid-19 has exacerbated it.
“We know that in general, loneliness and isolation can have startling negative effects on seniors,” said Arnold, who holds Masters degrees in both nursing and clinical psychology. “The scary thing is, our seniors are at the highest risk for serious outcomes from Covid-19 and they are frightened. Many have cut themselves off from the outside world, from those who gave meaning to their lives and made them feel happy and purposeful. Those are critical aspects of good health.”
In honor of Grandparent’s Day, here are 10 gifts you can give Grandma and Grandpa to help them stay social, active and in good spirits.
1. A scrapbook with mementos and family photos.
“Looking through a book like this will give them good, warm feelings and validate how they’ve impacted those around them,” Arnold said. “It will give them a sense of feeling valued and important and not so isolated.”
2. A memory jar
Cut a piece of paper into 50 strips, jot down short memories on each strip, and put them in a jar. Memories can include places the family went, childhood recollections, and funny family jokes. Tell the grandparents to pull out a piece of paper whenever the feel like they need a smile or a laugh.
3. An activities basket
Put together a basket containing crossword puzzles, games, word searches and other activities, and encourage grandparents to engage. According to a study published on the National Center for Biotechnology Information’s website, participation in cognitively stimulating leisure activities like these may delay the onset of memory decline in the preclinical stages of dementia. In other words, exercising the brain keeps it healthy and functioning!
4. Personal training sessions
Exercise is important in keeping our grandparents physically healthy, but having a professional trainer keeps it safe. In addition to the physical workout they will get, hiring a trainer also gives them the social aspect—interacting with someone while working out.
5. An Apple watch
There are many safety devices for seniors on the market, including the Apple watch. This device not only serves its normal functions, including talking, texting and music, but it also detects falls, giving the user the option to call 911 if needed.
6. A playlist with music favorites
“Music allows people to connect with the past and feel happy. I’ve seen it again and again,” said Arnold. “Every time I’ve played meaningful music to a senior, I see the person lighten and smile and reminisce. They engage, sing, clap, sway, and relax.”
7. A pet
How about a cat or a dog for Grandma or Grandpa? Pets offer companionship, love, and help people feel less alone. Plus, caring for a pet gives the owner a sense of purpose.
8. An iMovie
Creating an iMovie isn’t as hard as you think! What a wonderful gift grandparents can receive by watching old clips of their grandchildren’s theatre, sports, or music performances. Their faces will light up and they’ll feel proud and entertained.
9. A Grandpad
Ever hear of the Grandpad? It’s an app that makes electronics easy and simple for seniors. You can customize it with large buttons that give users easy access to music, phone calls, video chatting, games, emails, weather, news and more. It takes the intimidation out of electronics and therefore gives seniors the confidence to engage.
10. Your time
Perhaps the best gift you can give grandparents is spending time together. Going for a walk or even sitting outside for a few minutes can be beneficial to them in feeling connected and less isolated.
“You’re bringing the person back to life and providing the enjoyment of living,” Arnold said. “We need people, and when you take that away from seniors who are already limited in their ability to socialize, it’s very unhealthy. Go out on the lawn, set up chairs six feet apart and wear masks. You don’t have to be locked up in the house.”
To all grandparents, thank you for your wisdom, your calming presence and your love. Happy Grandparents Day!
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Jackie Pilossoph is a former television journalist and newspaper features reporter. The author of four novels and the writer of her weekly relationship column, Love Essentially, Pilossoph is also the creator of the divorce support website, Divorced Girl Smiling. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism and lives in Chicago with her two teenagers.