Caregivers and Volunteers Call Frail Elderly, “Corona-isolation is a problem”

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 by Jennifer van den Broeke

“We call many of our elderly. For them it is a confusing and incomprehensible time,” says Simone. She a nurse practitioner in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. For caregivers and volunteers who work with older people this is a difficult period. Visiting is no longer possible due to COVID-19, Coronavirus. But right now it is important to maintain contact. The phone is therefore indispensable.


1 in 4 elderly in the Netherlands is lonely. This group is temporarily growing due to the measures taken to prevent further spread of COVID-19. Not enjoying dinner with your family, no mosque visits or small talk at the market. For many elderly life will look completely different and that’s tough.


Make a phone call

Jennifer van den Broeke is program coordinator Older persons at Pharos. She hears that many professionals and volunteers telephone the elderly they would normally meet, and she encourages this wholeheartedly. Especially in the case of vulnerable older persons who are in a disadvantaged situation. These people often have a small network, little money or speak the Dutch language insufficiently. These elderly do not quickly raise the alarm if they need help.


Support in difficult times

A phone call makes them feel less alone. “I hope everyone will make phone calls these days. And will continue to do so. Do not underestimate the importance of regular contacts now. You really are not simply interchangeable with a colleague. Chances are very high that you as a professional or volunteer, are the only one who feels familiar enough for them to share worries and ask questions to. Even if they have children, because many elderly people do not want to bother their children. Phoning them gives support in difficult times if it is done by someone familiar and trusted. Corona isolation is a real problem now, “says Van den Broeke.


That includes Heba (60) who fled from Syria: “I’m scared and I do not understand many things. Going outside is not good now. I might get sick. In Damascus I survived the bombs and then I get this.”


Explain the measures again and again

Van den Broeke indicates that you should not expect a lot of knowledge about the Coronavirus. “You can tell by the reaction of Heba. She thinks it is dangerous outside. Because of anxiety and fear older persons do not understand or comprehend all measures. Extra explanation and repetition are important. Especially since the measures change from day to day. When someone you trust talks about what you can and cannot do, this is easier to understand that when an expert does this on television. Many older persons do not read newspapers and do not watch the news on tv.”


Another advice is to ask whether the family knows of the measures and offer to talk the measures through with the family members. Pharos has information cards about the Coronavirus made in different languages. Which you can also email or print and send:


Teach-back method

We see more and more initiatives of people who are helping others. A lot of older people who live in deprived neighbourhoods or who have small social networks, do not hear about these initiatives. In addition, they often have the feeling that initiatives such as the telephone lines, or the assistance of volunteers to help with groceries, are not intended for them. As a professional or a volunteer, you can inform them and help them step-by-step to get to the initiatives they could be supported by. The teach-back method is a very useful tool in order to see if the information you gave was clear and thus understood.


Phone Circle

In the Netherlands not all phone lines that are active because of the COVID-19, have volunteers who speak other languages than Dutch. An alternative to the phone lines that people can call with questions, is starting a phone circle. For older migrants it can be very nice to have a phone circle with approximately eight people who speak the same language. At Pharos we heard about some phone circles in Turkish that already have started. Help the elderly to start a phone circle by looking in the region they live for existing phone circles and asking these organization what is possible for starting a phone circle in another language.



Phone advice for caregivers and volunteers


  • Call on fixed agreed times
  • Ask if the elderly would prefer to call with image (FaceTime, Video-Whatsapp). It sometimes helps to see a familiar face.
  • Take time to talk and talk slowly and clearly.
  • Ask if the older person feels alone or is scared.
  • Inform what the older person needs: a friendly chat, information about the Coronavirus or assistance (eg groceries)
  • Share what is happening in the world: schools are closed, children are taught at home, the King has addressed the country, people clapped for the doctors and nurses, etc.
  • Consider together what the older person is still able to do.
  • Explain that for many people, not just the elderly, this is a tough time. Give an example from your own life ( “It’s hard that I cannot see my father, because I have to cough. I miss him.”)
  • Consider together who the older person could also phone (relative, friend, neighbor)
  • Explain that the older person can call various phone lines such as in the Netherlands: Listen Line, elderly association ANBO (there are also Turkish and Moroccan speaking volunteers active), the Silver Line, elderly-Tel and the Red Cross.
  • End the call with a message of hope ( “The sun is shining. You can sit back on your balcony.)