Maybe you were already considering your next move on how to help a parent before COVID-19 came stomping into your life. Or maybe the person you love doesn’t need any help but it’s a strain to not hang out whenever you want to.
Generationally speaking, the Baby Boomers are feeling a certain pinch with this pandemic. For the first time, they are publicly lumped into an “at-risk” group based on “old” age. Then, they are told to socially isolate — which is like asking a Boomer to cut off their leg given that they are one of the first cohorts to treasure close relationships with their kin. In the meantime, GenXers, Millennials and the newly-named Generation Z cohorts are minding their distance and trying to figure out how to be connected/helpful from afar. Yes there is video-chat. Yes Amazon still delivers but how do you help when there’s a medical situation? What if there’s a form that needs to be signed and returned? Who’s going to fight that Comcast bill? And all this on top of everyone’s brains doing what they need to do to be comfortable with all this uncertainty.
While tips and tricks are in abundance right now, here are five ideas I haven’t seen on any lists of things to make coordinating and connecting easier from afar.
1. One word: AdobeScan. This is a free app you can download to your smartphone which lets you take a picture of any piece of paper and turn it into a PDF. You can also sign forms and email them directly from your phone. How many times have you heard, “I got this thing in the mail that doesn’t make any sense” but you can’t help because you can’t see what they’re seeing? With AdobeScan, you can easily scan, email or text a PDF of whatever you’re looking at to someone else. It’s WAY easier than trying to zoom in with your fingers and read a piece of paper from a photo.
2. Conference Call – the original life hack. Unless there’s a POA (power of attorney) form on file (and the agency can actually find it), no one is going to talk to you over the phone about your parents’ account or file. So when something seems wonky with a medical or insurance bill, one thing you can do is call together. Get the number from your parents, keep them on the phone and click “Add Call” on your phone. Dial the number and merge the calls together. Work your way through the phone-tree until you reach someone. Explain that you are calling about whomever’s account it is and you have them on the phone. The rep should ask for verbal permission to discuss the situation with someone else on the phone and then you can have a conversation together. If you have to leave a message, make sure to have your parent say they give permission for the rep to discuss their case with you, and then leave your number. This is especially helpful if someone has hearing loss or cognitive issues.
3. Beef up your Video-chat. If you’ve ventured into the wide, wonderful world of video-chatting, you’ve probably realized this is a great way to “be there” even if you can’t “be there”. One particularly easy video-chat option is OneClick Chat which allows you to create a “room” that can be entered by clicking on a link you create for your family. Yes, everyone feels a little awkward but it’s so good to see each other so why not remember this moment by taking a picture of everyone AKA a screenshot. Check out these instructions for a Mac; instructions for Windows. From there, use a website like TouchNote to turn the screenshot into a postcard that you can send directly to your friends and family. Who knows — this might be 2020’s new idea of a family photo!
4. Give the Gift of Schedule. We are all trying to figure out what to do with our time these days. A lot of us used to depend on just calling when we thought about our parents but with all this time alone, it’s a good idea to set a recurring date on your calendar for calls and video-chatting. Part of what makes COVID-19 hard is the uncertainty of it all, so having a date and time to count on gives people something to look forward to and a sense of schedule again. In the times between calls, consider a family text thread or an online game app like Words with Friends to stay connected.
5. An Important Card in the Spokes. Your health is like a wheel and all the different things that keep us balanced are the spokes. Mental wellbeing is a vital spoke in keeping the wheel turning but sometimes one we don’t talk about. Keep in mind that “flooding” or bursts of emotion out of nowhere are the brain’s way of making itself comfortable in the face of uncertainty. Another thing we do when a situation is uncertain is try to find control again. And if we can’t control the situation, we go for the low-hanging fruit and try to control the people around us, especially with unreasonable expectations. Right now more than ever, the U.S. has relaxed regulations to increase remote access to mental health services. Bringing in the expertise of a therapist for you or a family member can shed light on anxieties, remind us that our reactions are normal and ease the expectations we have of each other so that we can remain connected.