Kitchen helper

Who doesn't remember that delicious dish Grandma or Grandpa used to make when we were kids? Well, it's time to ask them to teach us how to make it, too. It doesn't have to be a special recipe either; you can ask them for help with any meal, even if you don't really need it. If you don’t live with them, you can still call them for advice, recipes and tips, and if they text, send them a picture of your finished dish.

Gardening

Gardening helps us keep active in body and mind, at any age. For senior citizens it can be particularly beneficial, giving them the feeling that a living being depends on them and their care, a sensation they may not have had since they were raising children. They don't need a huge garden. A little bit of ground or some soil and a pot, and some seeds or roots (which they can get from the fruits and vegetables they have at home), can provide them with a plant or a small plot to take care of. Encourage them to use the produce in their meals later.

Virtual book club

You can do "book club" with your elderly loved ones, or give them the idea to do it with one or more of their friends. They can read one book per week, or perhaps a chapter a day. The group can meet over a video chat platform, or if it’s easier and there are just two people, the book discussion can happen over the phone. As far as reading material goes, if the group members don’t all have some books in common already, they can use e-books. Problems with the eyes? Help them get audiobooks they'd enjoy.

Games

If they are comfortable using a computer, tablet, or smartphone, you can send them links to games you think they might like: online solitaire, crossword puzzles, word search puzzles, historical trivia. There are many options. Just make sure the interface is easy to use, and let them know you’re available to help with any technical questions they may have. Many of these games will not only entertain them, but also exercise their mind. If they live at home with you, an afternoon of board games as a family would be a wonderful option.

Exercise

Many of us need a little incentive to exercise, and I'm not just talking about grandparents. It's great for our health and can be entertaining. Of course, you have to take into account your loved one's age and physical condition, but on the Internet there are many tutorials and routines adapted for senior citizens, involving stretching exercises and more. While they do their routine, you can do yours, or join them and do an extra workout that day.

Work on photo albums

Many of our elders have an enormous amount of photos from their past. You can suggest that they organize them in an album, and maybe also add some decoration (like a scrapbook) or notes to each photo, including anecdotes or comments about the people and events in the photos. This will help them remember good times, exercise their memory, and keep busy for a long time, and will be a nice piece of history for their family to have when they are gone.

One call

There’s a simple way to make your elderly family members happier, especially if they live alone or in a retirement home: Call them to say hello. Depending on how technologically savvy your parent or grandparent is, you can call on Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp, Zoom, or a good old-fashioned phone call. Try to avoid talking about the quarantine. Instead, ask them for a recipe, ask them to tell you a story from the past, or ask them to recommend some music or a book for you. Ask them why they like that recipe or book, and enjoy getting to know them a little better, even from afar.

A day at the “spa”

There’s nothing like a bit of self-care! If you live with your elderly loved one, help them set up some relaxing music, a couple of candles (preferably aromatic), a manicure at home, and a moisturizing mask (either store-bought or homemade). If they live elsewhere, encourage them to do something similar at home, to relax and pamper themselves during these days.

Sewing

For those who enjoy sewing and have the knowledge and materials to work on it, encourage them to take up this activity again. It helps to have a specific project in mind: Instead of saying, “Why don't you sew?”, suggest projects like "Hey, would you make me a scarf?” Or ask them to make a dress for their granddaughter's doll. You could even ask them to make cloth face masks and put them outside the front door with a sign that says people can take them, and reminding people to wash them every time they use them.

Ask them

It’s possible that we’ve been too busy in the past, with work and our kids’ school and activities, to really listen to what the senior citizens in our family actually need or want to do. Perhaps we don't need to inspire them or pitch ideas at all. Before anything else, we should ask them what they’d like to have or do to keep themselves occupied during this time of social distancing or quarantine. Is there a craft project, a special movie (streaming or on DVD), or maybe a jigsaw puzzle theme they’d enjoy? Is it something we can order for them online? As well-intentioned as our own ideas may be, our senior family members will appreciate most of all if we listen to what they really want. A listening ear and understanding heart is the kindest gift we can give, during quarantine or any time.