Using Technology to Keep Family Connections Strong

Using Technology to Keep Family Connections Strong

Paul and his great grandsons share art (photo by Krissy Klouda).

A car pulls into Krissy Klouda’s driveway. The car and the two individuals inside are familiar — it’s Bob and Cindy, Krissy’s parents and the grandparents to her three young boys. 

But instead of these beloved grandparents exiting their car, hugging their grandsons and joining Krissy for a visit, Bob and Cindy simply sit and watch the boys play in the yard. They smile and wave to Klouda and her husband, John, at a safe distance from inside the car.  

In fact, Bob and Cindy only open the car door to leave homemade baked goods and a pitcher of Bob’s “famous” iced tea for the family to enjoy before blowing kisses to say goodbye while backing out of the driveway to head home.

Two months ago, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, this scene would have played out differently. Though the coronavirus has affected their lives and interactions with loved ones, families are still keeping connections. 

Distance Interactions

Klouda’s parents live locally and are part of her family’s normal activities. Bob is a beloved high school coach whose biggest fans are his grandsons, who are following their grandfather’s love of sports. Cindy, a retired nurse, shares her love of baking and has provided caregiving support for the Klouda family as Krissy and John balance professional responsibilities with the needs and activities of their sons. 

Residents at Ohio Living Breckenridge Village interacting differently (photo by Mary Ellen Layman).

With recent restrictions, Krissy and John have adjusted to new schedules, support and different interactions with her parents. In addition to daily FaceTime and a lot of phone calls, their sons have shown gratitude and keep connected to their grandparents by writing notes, drawing pictures and creating chalk art in their grandparents’ driveway. The family has found comfort in the ability to text and share updates and photos of simple daily activities, from the boys doing homework to what food is being served for dinner.

Klouda also has been challenged to find new ways to connect with her grandparents, Paul and Dorothy, both in their 90s. Married for nearly 70 years, this local couple became separated earlier this year when health needs forced Dorothy to move into a nursing home. This transition was challenging and then amplified when restrictions were put in place that prohibited in-person visits. 

Inspired by other stories of people visiting outside the windows of the nursing home, Klouda made a visit with her boys and grandfather. Though it wasn’t the same, the ability to see Dorothy smile through those windows and have an in-person, though different, interaction was meaningful. As stay-at-home orders were put in place in Ohio, Paul also needed to limit his trips to his wife’s window. For now, daily phone calls keep the two connected.

Virtually Together

Stories like Paul and Dorothy’s have been the focus of Mary Ellen Layman, director of program services at Ohio Living Breckenridge Village. On a daily basis, she works to keep residents connected to their families. Typically, Layman’s job is to provide leadership and help coordinate all activities for residents in assisted living, skilled nursing and long-term care. Generally, this work includes leading daily discussion groups, exercise classes, Bingo games, lectures, live music programs and a multitude of special events.

Mary Ellen Layman and a resident at OLBV (photo by Mary Ellen Layman).

Now, with a focus on keeping residents healthy, group activities have been suspended and Layman and her team are engaged in daily one-on-one interactions with all residents, including daily FaceTime, Skype and Zoom calls from residents to their loved ones. Though this has been a challenging time, there also have been joyful moments, including being part of family reunions where siblings from across the country are now interacting simultaneously with their parents through a variety of technological options. 

Layman says they are working on creative ways to keep residents communicating with loved ones while keeping them engaged in meaningful activities. They are sending cards to families from residents, as well as working to capture residents’ positive messages on white boards and sending a picture to the family. Though it may not be the same, Layman says families should continue to reach out, especially to senior citizens at facilities. 

Not sure where to start? Use resources such as a facility’s activity director, she says, because they are working specifically to keep communications occurring regularly. 

“We will explore every option we can,” Layman says. 

Jeannie Fleming-Gifford is a writer, adventurer, arts lover, puppy raiser and mom. 

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