As the coronavirus pandemic continues to change the way we live our lives, families are having to make some tough calls to protect their most vulnerable members and for many grandparents it could mean being isolated in their own home.
- People over 70 have been advised to avoid contact in the UK
- Many in Australia are already self-isolating or preparing to
- Older people are advised to maintain social connections remotely
The Federal Government has yet to officially call for Australians over a certain age to avoid social contact — as in the UK where those over 70 have been told to avoid going out for three months — yet many among that age group are already bracing for a life behind closed doors.
Add to that the Government’s decision to keep schools open, at least for now, and grandparents are facing an unknown time period where visiting their grandchildren is ill-advised.
But people who already live on the other side of the world from their families say there are ways to stay close without face-to-face contact.
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Lessons from those already kept apart
Emelyn Fuller is three years old and lives in Glasgow, Scotland. Her paternal grandmother, Alice Fuller, lives in Virginia in the United States.
They only see each other in person about once every 18 months and rely on technology to keep their bond alive.
Emelyn’s mother, Kara Fuller, is a lecturer in psychology at the University of Glasgow and is about 5,000 kilometres from her own parents, who also live in the United States.
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She said families separated by distance have long found ways to maintain connections and the lessons they have learned would be especially important during these difficult times.
“It is about changing your frame of mind to focus on the bond that you have and the social connection, rather than focusing on the physical distance,” Dr Fuller said.
“Everywhere in the news now we see the advice to practice social distancing.
“This is clearly important and responsible behaviour and it helps to ensure we minimise the spread of COVID-19.
“However, the term is misleading in a sense, because it seems to suggest that we will have fewer social connections — these can happen in person of course, but also through video, post, phone calls, messages and more.”
Kara Fuller says grandparents can stay close, even when they can’t have physical contact. (ABC News: Briana Shepherd
Technology key for social connection
Bronwyn Harman, an expert on family psychology from Edith Cowan University’s School of Psychology and Social Science, said forced isolation was difficult for anyone.
“We know that human beings in general are social people, we like groups, we like to be with people,” she said.
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“Even introverts like to be with people to some extent, so having forced isolation is not good for anyone’s mental health.
“But despite the myth, many old people are good with technology.
“They might bumble through to start with, but older people have lived through times of lots of change and they’re pretty good at adapting when they have to.”
Bronwyn Harman says despite the stereotypes, many older people can learn to use new technology. (ABC Radio Perth: Emma Wynne)
Dr Harman suggested taking the time now to make sure those vulnerable to COVID-19 were technologically prepared and knew how to use video applications like Skype, Zoom or FaceTime.
“And don’t forget the phone call, ring them up and talk to them. Even talking to them is sometimes enough to alleviate feelings of isolation,” she said,
“If it’s the case of people being isolated to an extent where they can’t go out into the community at all, I would really be ringing them every day just to check that they’re OK.
“And rope in as many family members as you can — children are very good with technology now, so you can even get a five-year-old to ring nana and grandad or to have a chat.
“Set up family dinners via Skype — the options in that sense are almost endless.”
Children may enjoy writing letters to their grandparents while they are isolating. (Flickr: will
Write letters, use the post
For some people learning how to use a new technology might be overwhelming, especially if they are already struggling with heightened anxiety as the coronavirus crisis develops.
Dr Harman said if that were the case, it might be time to revisit a long-lost art of the past — letter writing.
“Get kids to write letters or draw pictures and post them, and that can be exciting for the kids because most don’t even know what a mailbox is anymore,” she said.
“They can send something in the mail and then nana or granddad will receive it a few days later, and maybe write one back.”
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In the event schools were to be closed, Dr Harman said doing those types of activities would help the whole family in a lock-down situation.
She said whether they remained at school or not, children, especially those who were close to their grandparents, would be feeling the impacts of the already introduced measures around social distancing and isolation.
“I think it’s going to be particularly hard for little children because little children don’t understand time and so for them an hour can sometimes feel forever,” Dr Harman said.
“If they’re used to seeing their grandparents, for example, every day or every second day, in a few days they’re going to get really uptight … and may not understand why they can’t see them.”
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In the same way the Norway Prime Minister recently held a children-only COVID-19 press conference, Dr Harman said communicating with our younger generation would be integral for them in the long term as well.
“I believe in telling children the truth, but not scaring the life out of them,” Dr Harman said.
“I would use age-appropriate language and explain to them what’s going on.
“An example might be to say there’s some germs around at the moment and nobody really knows what the germs are or where they’re coming from, so to keep nana and granddad safe, we decided to stay away from them — just so they don’t catch any germs.”
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