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How older people can keep in touch with grandchildren

Lisa Salmon finds out how hard lockdown is for family members who've been cut off from loved ones and what they are able to do

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Web chat: tech can tackle loneliness

Web chat: tech can tackle loneliness

Web chat: tech can tackle loneliness

For many people, one of the hardest parts of the coronavirus lockdown has been not being able to see family - and that's been especially difficult for grandparents, who often live alone and depend on close family contact.

Some grandparents have taken extreme measures just to have physical contact with their grandchildren.

A Californian couple were so desperate to hug their grandkids during lockdown that they wrapped themselves up in plastic bags, tightly secured them with electrical tape and used snorkels to breathe before knocking on their daughter's door to grab a cuddle with her four young sons.

While such action is understandable but definitely not advisable, grandparents closer to home are clearly also struggling with the enforced separation from their grandchildren.

At a recent government coronavirus briefing a question submitted online from a grandmother said: "I'm missing my grandchildren so much. Please can you let me know if, after the five criteria are met, is being able to hug our closest family one of the first steps out of lockdown?"

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the question "brought home the emotional impact of lockdown" and that he hoped it would be allowed "as soon as possible", although Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty warned that for some vulnerable groups, close contact with family may continue to be a risk for some time.

Lara Crisp, editor of the grandparents' social networking site Gransnet, agrees lockdown has been particularly tough for grandparents as they're more likely to be in high-risk categories and completely cut off from their beloved grandchildren.

She says that the impact on grandparents' mental health is undeniable.

A Gransnet survey found 38% of grandparents were concerned about their mental health during lockdown and even more (53%) were worried about their children's mental health.

"This is a tough time for all of us, but grandparents are finding it incredibly hard for a number of reasons," Crisp explains.

"What's interesting is that worry about their children and grandchildren and maintaining those bonds supersedes concern for their own health."

However, she believes many grandparents are finding novel ways to keep in touch with family and friends, often embracing new technology, and finding ways to support each other.

Here, she outlines what grandparents are most concerned about during lockdown - and how they're coping.

Staying connected

Grandparents are working on new ways to stay connected, with 46% saying they're speaking to friends and family more during lockdown and 78% stating they're maintaining their social relationships well virtually.

"The positive side of technology has certainly proved itself in recent weeks through family WhatsApp groups, video calls, and online communities such as Gransnet. Of course, they aren't a replacement for real-life hugs with your loved ones, but for now they are an excellent alternative for staying in touch," Crisp says.

First-time grandparents

Grandparents who've been anxiously awaiting the birth of their new grandchild are now denied the opportunity to see the precious newborns.

"The exquisite joy of having a tiny hand wrap around your finger, or that new baby smell - these simple pleasures just can't be conveyed across FaceTime. For now, grandparents are making do with regular calls and new parents are sending frequent photographic evidence of gummy first smiles and sleeping babes," says Crisp.

Childcare

Although 44% of grandparents are concerned about the effect lockdown is having on their relationship with their grandchildren, this isn't their only worry.

In normal times, families rely on grandparents for childcare and grandparents are used to having this regular contact.

Crisp reflects: "Without it, many feel helpless. They can see how hard it is for their families to juggle working from home with trying to keep the kids up-to-date on schoolwork and feel they want to help in some way."

She adds, however, that many grandparents are supervising their grandchildren's schoolwork on video calls and taking part in bedtime routines by reading to their grandkids.

"This works better if granny and grandchild have a copy of the same book they can read at the same time," she adds.

Other suggestions include posting seeds and then sharing photos as they grow.

Belfast Telegraph