With the COVID-19 pandemic, the non-profit Freunde alter Menschen is particularly worried about the situation of the elderly in Germany. Fortunately, the organization also receive many offers of help from new volunteers. In addition, media attention for the elderly as a vulnerable group has increased significantly, which results in many requests for the association. In this context, the elderly seem particularly worthy of protection and sympathy to the general public.
The situation of the elderly
All the elderly people accompanied by the FAMEV association in Berlin, Hamburg and Cologne were called by the employees to assess their situations and needs. It showed that, at this point, the elderly were doing well and didn’t need extra help with the basic needs. Freunde Alter Menschen maintains frequent and regular telephone contact with elderly people suffering from serious illnesses or with very little social contact. Particular attention is paid to people over 75 years of age, most of whom live alone in their own homes.
Telephone visits” – a substitute for social gatherings
Regular meetings between young and old have been replaced by phone calls / letters or even video telephony. Seniors who did not yet have visits by a volunteer receive phone calls at their request. In response to the crisis, telephone chains between seniors were also set up. Some are also in daily contact via WhatsApp or e-mail. To make it easier to start a conversation, Freunde alter Menschen has developed a conversation guide and volunteers have collected sayings or jokes that can be used to enhance conversations. Sometimes coordinators and volunteers can also put into perspective fears, unscientific theories or even conspiracy theories approaches that some older people may have.
All events, excursions, etc. have been cancelled until further notice. Volunteers are finding many creative ways to keep in touch. In this way they hope to alleviate some of the loneliness. Nevertheless, the need for face-to-face meetings is very great and reflection will be carried out to find long-term alternatives.
Voisin-Age: the neighbourhood platform www.generation-nachbarschaft.de has been adapted to the requirements of the Corona crisis. It now offers Hamburg the opportunity to coordinate daily help for the elderly and to manage contacts by telephone and mail. The focus is on intergenerational cooperation and the activation of links in the neighbourhoods. Freunde alter Menschen hopes that the many registered users will retain this sense of “us” and continue to participate even after the crisis is over.
There are already purchase aids that work well, but there could be more. Each person reacts differently to the dangerousness of the situation and FAMEV employees note with concern that some elderly people do not always follow the recommended protective measures. The association considers that it is important to discuss with the elderly to find out to what extent it is appropriate to maintain – or modify – the daily routine, which is so expensive and structuring. For example, by replacing a walk to the supermarket with a walk on foot. Employees work hard to convince older people to accept help with shopping. Volunteers are willing to help people.
Many seniors have other supports, such as neighbours who do their shopping for them or receive meals on wheels through nursing services. As long as this supply is guaranteed, the majority of people currently have no difficulties. However, this situation may change in the coming weeks, so the association has developed a purchasing guide to suggest different ways to manage the situation.
Mut-Mach-Mail, flower wishes, Easter promotions
Freunde alter Menschen sent “Mut-Mach-Post” letters to the elderly. They are mainly from volunteers, who have been asked to send texts, drawings, poems or recipes. In recent weeks they have also delivered bouquets of flowers and Easter nests with the help of many dedicated volunteers. The volunteers are very creative: they paint chalkboards in front of the elderly people’s windows, put bags containing the ingredients of their favourite food in front of the door or call out to people as they see each other through the window.
The empathy and affection of the many volunteers is overwhelming and FAMEV is looking forward to seeing many new people interested and willing to get involved.
Outlook for the future
The coordinators of the association enjoy a great deal of trust among the elderly. They know each other, the relationship is personal. The services offered by the association are free and there is clearly no other interest behind this commitment, so credibility is very high.
For the future, Freunde alter Menschen wishes the best for the health of the elderly. The association hopes that some volunteers who are willing to help will continue their commitment after the crisis. Thus, even in “normal times”, the serious consequences of the isolation and loneliness of the elderly must be kept in mind.
(Photo credit: Famev)