Keeping Well at Home - It’s Important to Check in and Chat As Part of our Keeping Well at Home series we spoke to Mandy Wilson. Mandy is a Mental Health Nurse and Our Head of Wellbeing. She says there are lots of simple ways to feel connected whilst shielding or social distancing. Here she explains why the feeling of connectedness is more important than ever before, to help us keep well and feel positive. Many of the support programmes we provide traditionally involve face to face interaction with older people, so over the past four months, we have totally adapted our activities to support over 2,000 older people directly and our age sector network partners across NI are supporting many more. A central part of our normal work is about connecting with others, keeping in touch and in particular helping older people who live alone, those who have been bereaved, are living with dementia, or, caring for someone with a long-term condition. From a scientific perspective, contact with others stimulates our mind and releases feel-good hormones which boost our mood. Human beings are programmed to seek company, reassurance and support from others. It’s not surprising that being by yourself can lead to loss of motivation, low mood and loneliness, which some experts believe has a worse impact on health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day. So staying connected is more important than ever during this period of extended isolation. We have a growing team of volunteers (thank you to all of you, and we always need more!). They have taken to the phones to do a regular Check in and Chat call with some older people; and they have provided practical support with shopping, delivering medicines and ordering oil or making gas payments. But there are lots of other unseen challenges. For example, we’ve all seen images of people being greeted through a window by family members, but this is impossible for someone living in a flat or apartment up several floors. Similarly, we have considered the needs of those who are hard of hearing, who can’t benefit from a telephone chat. And of course, while many of us have benefitted from new video calls and online services, many older people either don’t have access to technology or feel fearful of using it. Age NI has come up with lots of solutions to ensure connectedness despite these challenges. For example, we started a weekly letter-writing programme, through which volunteers are writing and posting letters, providing updates on normal family life. We’ve seen whole families getting involved, drawing pictures, creating bookmarks or sharing recipes to send in with the letters. This small thread of connectedness is giving the letter recipients a much-needed connection to the “outside world”. For those interested in using technology, our team have provided practical advice, talking older people through getting online, using video calls and communications apps, and testing them with them. This has enabled them to stay connected with their families or join in with online communities - it’s been a real revelation to them to transform from technophobes to facetime and zoom-wizards! And another helpful tool which anyone can use is visual storytelling via a regular phone chat. This is a form of mindfulness, particularly useful for those with reduced mobility unable to get outdoors: it involves talking about the sensations, the smells, the sounds and the sights that our imagination can use to transport us to another moment or time, giving us a little mental escape from our current situation. This is remarkably effective for reducing anxiety and you can do it alone once you know how. We have responded to what older people told us they wanted, which has included quizzes, bingo, music, art activities and now our ‘Move with Mary’ exercise programme. We have also found that people have been able to think differently about their life during this time, for example, about their relationships with others and forgiveness. People have used their regular calls to talk through something they either seek forgiveness for or they have voiced their forgiveness for others. This is a powerful way to provide mental peace. The most important thing to say to anyone reading this is that we are all in this together and that Age NI is here to help you stay connected. We work in partnership with Age Sector Networks across Northern Ireland who are all delivering vital services in local communities. If you have any concerns about yourself, a family member or a friend, get in touch with the Age NI Advice Line on 0808 808 7575 to get more information on what’s available out there to support you to keep connected.