How to Help Your Older Loved Ones Through COVID-19

According to a recent Harris poll reported by Forbes, 25% of adults over 65 admitted they’re not very knowledgeable about COVID-19, 77% think they’re “unlikely” to catch it, 91% still plan to go to the grocery store, and only 20% said they would avoid mass transit. (For comparison, only 77% of Millennials plan to keep shopping and 35% plan to avoid mass transit.)

Here are 7 Suggestions for how you can help the older loved ones in your life through this confusing and potentially alarming time…

  • Get your older loved ones some facts. 
    • According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, almost all of the people in the U.S. who have died from COVID-19 were in their 70s, 80s, and 90s.
    • Currently there is no vaccine or drug to combat COVID-19.
    • The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed.
    • Everyday prevention measures such as covering coughs and sneezes, disinfecting surfaces, and frequent hand washing (with soap for 20 seconds) can help reduce the spread of the virus.
  • Be sure your older loved ones are getting ongoing information from trustworthy sources. Make sure they know the difference between trusted and trust-worthy.  Your mom may implicitly trust Sheila down the street but her sources might not always be verified. If you have older children, they have likely been getting instruction (from you or others) on digital source criticism. But your parents might not. Instead of lecturing on why Shelia—or her favorite on-air personality—might not have it quite right, I’ve gotten in the habit of reacting to a new piece of “news” from anyone with “That’s really interesting. I’d like to read more about that.  What is your source on that?” A great resource to share is the CDC’s webpage on COVID-19, particularly the page on higher risk and special populations: 
  • Talk through how social distancing works and how they can practice it in their given situations.  This will be different for those living independently in a stand-alone home or apartment, and different yet for those living in continuing care communities or nursing facilities.  The virus is spread mainly person-to-person (within 6 feet). So keeping the number of people you are in contact with to a minimum can reduce the likelihood of infection for individuals.  It can also help “flatten the curve” of how quickly communities reach pandemic levels, which is important in keeping the quality of medical care adequate to treat those who become ill.
  • Be mindful not to infantilize. There is a difference between explaining scientific facts or governmental advisement and treating someone as though they are an uneducated child. As in most everything, though, that difference matters less in what you say than how you say it. It’s good to stick to facts and sources (see above) and a dollop of concern (see next).
  • Show your concern.  You don’t need to scare your older loved ones. But you should let them know that  you are concerned the health risk seems to be posing to people in their age cohort and that it would mean a lot to you if they would take the recommended precautions to safeguard themselves and their health. They may not be willing to change their behaviors on their own behalf, but they may do so to please or placate you.
  • Make sure practicalities are taken care of. How will they be able to get the food, medications, and other supplies that they need if they are staying away from stores? Are there delivery services they (or you) can access? Do you know what they need? At the very least, ask what medications they are on, whether their doctors have suggested that they have certain foods or beverages on a regular basis and make a plan with them on how they can maintain a steady supply of those items. Make sure you have the numbers of your older loved ones’ doctors, nearest hospital, and community manager. They may call you for guidance before one of those professionals.
  • Ask them about their plans for exercise and social interaction. What do they like to do?  Who do they like to spend time with? How can you help them make sure they are staying active and socially connected if those favorite pastimes and friendships are unavailable due to the social distancing protocols?  What are alternatives might there be?  Be prepared to step up your level of communication over the coming weeks to make sure that they are not feeling isolated