Global lockdown measures have seen us spend more time apart from our loved ones than ever before. We've outlined the best ways to keep in touch with people of all ages during this time.
Since March, most of the world has been living under lockdown measures. That means we’re now in the fourth calendar month of these unusual times.
Though some measures are beginning to be lifted, it’s still uncertain when a vaccine will be developed, which is the only thing that will allow us to fully lift lockdown with confidence.
For those who highly value contact with others, the separation from family and friends will have been difficult.
Loneliness has been shown to have negative effects on our mental and physical health. The health risks are even higher for older generations, who are more vulnerable to disease (including coronavirus) and loneliness alike.
In the US, 27% of adults aged 60 or over live alone. In the UK, the figure is 3.8 million people over the age of 65 (2.2 million of whom are over 75). In Australia, the likelihood of living alone has been shown to increase with age, from 39% of those aged 65-74, to 51% of those aged over 85.
Communication is therefore of particular importance to this demographic and many will have lost the occasional contact they relied on before the lockdown was imposed.
Things are complicated further by the possibility that older people may be facing a longer lockdown, due to their increased vulnerability to coronavirus.
Of course, elderly friends and relatives are not the only people with whom you will need or want to be in touch.
Loneliness is something that doesn’t only affect the elderly, and many people of all ages will be missing their friends and the buzz of their social lives.
There is a range of apps available, suitable for all sorts and levels of communication.
Set up a Whatsapp group
It’s important to remember that not everyone enjoys speaking on the telephone. Indeed, psychologists have identified something they call ‘telephone anxiety’.
The necessity of calls throughout the workday for many, complemented by social engagements, means that even those that thrive on conversation may feel a little bit drained.
At the most basic level, setting up WhatsApp groups can be a good way to create a sense of community and to include people in day-to-day conversations.
They can also serve as a channel for people to turn to when in need of support. The barrier to entry is generally low, so this can be a good way to include less tech-savvy loved ones – it won’t be long before they’re sending emojis and memes of their own.
Start a regular video call
As of late April, Zoom reported 300 million daily meeting participants, while Houseparty logged 50 million signups in March/April.
Zoom has been the app that many have turned to during the coronavirus pandemic. It presents a low barrier to entry, with a couple of clicks getting you into meetings, and the user interface makes its simple to use.
Alternatives to Zoom include Skype, Google Hangouts/Meet, or Microsoft Teams.
The Zoom or equivalent pub quiz has become something of a lockdown staple. While many may be suffering from quiz fatigue at this stage, the format can give structure to Zoom chats to ease the social pressure.
It also gives quizmasters a chance to be creative and participants a chance to show off the depth and breadth of their learning.
Houseparty is another app that has gained a great deal of traction during the coronavirus pandemic. It allows users to play games in the app, and move between different conversations with their friends and strangers. While it was originally targeted at a younger audience, it has attracted a wider user base looking for alternative ways to stay in touch.
Various game apps offer social elements also, ranging from chess to the Scrabble-like Words with Friends to multiplayer shoot-em-ups like Fortnite (in case younger people needed somewhere new to socialise after older people took over Houseparty).
More thoughtful games can offer the feeling of spending time with others without necessarily need to talk too much, for the more taciturn among us.
Extra effort is required to read the non-verbal signs we rely on in everyday communication, and there is the constant awareness of being watched.
To combat this, try to arrange specific times to speak with friends who are less comfortable speaking on the phone, and confirm beforehand if they have the energy, offering them the chance to reschedule if they don’t feel up it.
The good news is that much of the awkwardness stems from the sudden dominance of the video calls, which have gone from occasional novelty to everyday necessity.
As we become accustomed to the new format, we will hopefully feel less awkward, and learn to separate work from pleasure, even if they are both conducted through the same media.
Pick up the phone
For many of us, new social media and communication software will have been central to staying in touch during the lockdown. However, it’s important to remember that not everyone is tech-savvy.
In the UK, Ofcom data shows 33% of those aged 65-74 do not use the internet, rising to 48% of those aged 75 and above. In the US, Pew Research Center data shows that 27% of those aged 65+ do not use the internet.
Certainly, if you can get an older loved one to understand the basics, they’ll certainly appreciate the benefits of a video call.
But, when considering the best way to stay in touch during the pandemic, it’s worth remembering that those who most need to speak may not be completely comfortable using the latest app.
When it comes to staying in touch with older friends and relatives, a phone call can be among the best solutions to stay in touch. While it’s not the same as meeting in-person, hearing a friendly voice will go a long way towards tackling loneliness.
Don’t forget the other half of the equation: a friendly ear.
While older relatives can be keen to hear about your life, you should also do your best to make sure to ask them about theirs – you may discover that they need help or support related to lockdown life.
The basic rules of phone etiquette apply – don’t rush them (put aside a decent amount of time), and try to keep the conversation on one topic at a time.
Be ready with some topics of interest for those to whom talking on the phone does not come naturally, be it current events, sports, gossip, or hobbies.
Write a letter
Postal services have been more essential than ever during the lockdown period, and many of us have come to rely on online orders and deliveries for essentials and luxuries.
It may well have been some years since some of us have sent anything the other way, though. Indeed, those from younger generations may have never needed to post a letter.
Though most people enjoy receiving a letter that’s not on a screen, it’s a particularly great way of staying in touch with older people.
While phone calls and text messages may provide instant communication, the effort, thought, and patience that goes into letter writing make recipients feel little more special.
Letters provide a physical object that the receiver can go back to whenever they want to feel in touch with the sender, and including printed pictures can be a great addition.
Letters can also be a good way to stay in touch with children whilst helping them to develop reading and writing skills. They’ll provide young people with an exciting experience in what may well be a monotonous time for them.
Plus, the benefits are not limited to the recipients.
Letter writing has been found to be effective in improving mental health.
They give us a chance to reflect and to order our thoughts in ways that the back-and-forth of digital everyday communication doesn’t, and can help us to express things in writing that can be difficult to say out loud.
We can also use postal services to stay in touch by sending gifts.
These don’t have to be large. Many businesses offer flowers, confectionary, and a range of other small gifts which can help you to remind someone they’re in your thoughts. These double as a good way to support small businesses!
Whatever media you choose to employ, the principles remain the same.
Try and reach out and stay in touch with loved ones as best you can, experimenting with different media to see which works best for you and them.
Don’t feel bad if you’re finding staying in touch with everyone draining – taking care of your own mental health is more important than ever in these tough times, and if that means skipping the odd Skype call, then so be it.