VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Now more than ever, it’s important to reach out to older relatives to make sure they’re not feeling isolated.
"There’s studies out there now that say being isolated and bored as a medical condition is just as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It’s a serious health condition," said Ben Unkle, CEO of the retirement community Westminster-Canterbury on Chesapeake Bay. "It’s something seniors had before and it’s something they’re feeling more of because even their periodic breaks of having children come visit them in their house or something like that are being choked off in many instances."
News 3 spoke with Unkle about ways you can keep your loved ones from feeling alone.
He says one of the easiest and best things you can do is just pick up the phone.
It’s important to have two-way conversations instead of just sending emails or letters.
If you’re struggling to come up with new things to talk about, he suggests using the free StoryCorps app.
It has suggested interview questions so you can record your loved one’s stories.
You can also use video chat services to play games together or even just have dinner virtually.
Westminster-Canterbury created its own version of a video chat program made to be especially easy for seniors to navigate.
“Some [video chat services], if you want to open a new Skype account now for instance, you have to have a mobile phone number. Well, a lot of seniors don’t have a mobile phone number, so we took a simple web-based video chat, and you can log-on on behalf of your parent, build the address book and when they click on the name, it automatically sends a link by text to the person they’re trying to call," said Unkle.
The program called Birdsong also has games, music and movies and is available for free right now.
If you’re looking for ways to help outside of your own family, Unkle suggests offering to be a telephone buddy for seniors.
They already have a program at Westminster-Canterbury and are currently working on having Norfolk Academy students be virtual video buddies.
He says you can create something similar it in your own community by starting a telephone group for older neighbors.
"Pick a topic. Pick a book club, bible study, anything. The extroverts are the ones that are suffering the most. They can’t stand being cooped up with no one to listen to their thoughts and ideas and to express them. They need that two-way conversation, said Unkle.