Ways to support older people living in self-isolation

Marcella McEvoy, Specialist Editor, Bupa
Specialist Health Editor at Bupa UK
21 April 2020
Next review due April 2023

Are you looking for ways that you can safely help older relatives, friends or neighbours in your community who may be self-isolating? And keep active at the same time?

Whether it’s helping with practical tasks like shopping or simply to cheer them up, there are many things you can do to make their lives easier. But, before offering any kind of support, make sure you read the Government’s advice online on supporting vulnerable people (especially if they’re aged over 70 or have a long-term health condition).

1. Help with shopping

Many large supermarket chains have introduced measures to support older people to get the supplies they need. This includes offering priority shopping hours and delivery slots. If you’re well, you could offer to help pick up shopping. Make sure you leave the shopping outside their front door at a safe distance (two metres away).

Supermarkets are also giving priority online shopping slots to people over the age of 70. You could help someone who isn’t familiar with technology, and perhaps lives further away from you, by doing their online shopping, and booking delivery slots.

In some areas, supermarkets have started delivering free food boxes from the Government that provide essential weekly supplies for extremely vulnerable people. These don’t require booking slots. If you know someone who is extremely vulnerable, you could offer to register them on the website, if they haven’t received any advice on this. You could also check if they are prioritised for supermarket delivery slots, eligible for a free food box, and any other help.

2. Collect medication

During self-isolation many vulnerable people on medication may be struggling to collect them from pharmacies. While many pharmacies around the country have begun delivering medication to elderly people, not everyone may be receiving this service. You could lend a hand with collecting prescriptions from pharmacies on their behalf. Remember, they’ll need to let the pharmacy know that you’ll be collecting it for them – you can find details on the NHS website.

Don’t forget to keep a safe distance when leaving any items on an older person’s doorstep. And make sure that they have collected the medication before leaving.

3. Stay connected

Try to arrange regular phone catch ups with older members of your family and friends. It might even help to draw up a rota with other family members, so that they are regularly in touch with someone. Setting up video calls, such as FaceTime or Skype, can also be a great way of bringing people together during self-isolation.

Age UK has developed online guides on using video calling, which might be helpful for anyone who hasn’t used a video call device before.

4. Encourage virtual social interaction

Finding other ways for an older friend or relative to socialise remotely can really help to look after their mental wellbeing. Depending on their interests, you could try and arrange an online quiz, board or card game. It could even be something as simple as organising a group chat.

Or, if someone you know is struggling to fill their day, you could try and inspire them to try a new hobby. There might also be hobby groups online or neighbourly book club dial-ins that they can join to share ideas and interests.

5. Reach out in small thoughtful ways

You may have recently heard or seen news reports on the heart-warming pictures or messages of support from school children to older residents. You could show someone that you care by writing them a letter. Or if you’re feeling creative, you could send them a picture, poem or card.

They may also appreciate you sharing any videos or pictures of what you and other family members or friends have been doing.

6. Share ideas for keeping physically active

For all of us, being physically active is an important part of staying healthy, and can help to manage anxiety and stress levels. You can encourage older relatives and friends to keep mobile by sharing ideas and tips on ways they can exercise at home. There are lots of exercises on the NHS website that are aimed at supporting elderly people with limited mobility. Or perhaps they could try some gentle chair yoga, keeping within their own capability range?

If someone you know is feeling particularly stressed or anxious by the situation, it might help to suggest some mindfulness tips. These can help with relaxation and give their wellbeing a boost.

7. Volunteering help

Consider joining a ‘befriending’ service. This helps older people in your community who are stuck at home, and may not have a family or friends network. Organisations like Age UK, Re-engage and Independent Age, have a network of local groups, with opportunities for you to befriend older people over the phone.

You could also link up with one of the many community aid groups, such as Covid-19 Mutual Aid UK, that have sprung up across the UK in response to the coronavirus. They are supporting people who can’t leave their homes and are unable to access supplies via friends and family.

8. Focus on the positives

It’s important for all of us to look after our mental wellbeing during this time. Keep reminding those who may be struggling with self-isolation to try and stay positive, and to focus on one day at a time. Think of things to say that will lift their spirits, and tell them that their current situation will not last forever. Hearing this can be a powerful source of comfort and hope.

Marcella McEvoy, Specialist Editor, Bupa
Marcella McEvoy
Specialist Health Editor at Bupa UK

    • Later life in the United Kingdom 2019. Age UK., last updated May 2019
    • Coronavirus (COVID-19): what you need to do. GOV.UK. April 2020
    • Guidance on social distancing for everyone in the UK. GOV.UK., updated March 2020
    • Coronavirus: How to help safely. GOV.UK., published March 2020
    • Can I pick up a prescription for someone else? NHS.UK., page last reviewed 20 February 2020

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