The COVID-19 pandemic presents a challenge the world hasn’t seen in many generations. Those who have never experienced a widespread health crisis deal with a new, unique reality of safety measures and preventative care. It’s a scary prospect for all people, but it may be particularly difficult and confusing for our elderly citizens.
The new norms of mask-wearing and social distancing are aspects our seniors have never dealt with on a widespread basis. Between the crosstalk of media information (and misinformation), the sudden drop of community functions, and the continuing uncertainty about when normal life can resume, it’s easy to imagine how our elderly loved ones may feel fear or reticence in these times.
Those of us who interact or visit our elderly relatives can take a few steps to help them deal with the life changes COVID-19 has made necessary. While we must remain dedicated and vigilant about the situation we face, we can still reassure and support our senior loved ones when discussing and addressing the pandemic. Here are a few approaches to consider.
Prepare yourself to explain.
Images we’ve seen and actions we’ve taken during the coronavirus pandemic are utterly unfamiliar to all of us. They’ve interrupted a steady course of life that we’ve known for years. To our elderly loved ones, these realities may be uncomfortable or frightening — especially if they suffer from age-related problems like dementia, Alzheimer’s, or memory loss.
Do your best to make a rational, fact-based explanation of the COVID-19 situation to your senior family or friend. Talk about the new normal and how it affects their current state in reasonable and logical ways.
For example, the sight of multiple people wearing face coverings or masks may be a source of alarm for some seniors. They associate masks with hazardous or risky environments or may feel frustration that masks keep them from immediately recognizing other people. But the reason they’re used now is fairly simple to explain (they stem the spread of the virus by restricting the transmission of moisture droplets).
Keep up to date with the elements and reasons behind preventative measures like masks and social distancing. That should help you explain the situation to older people in logical, reassuring ways.
Be upfront without being an alarmist
Honesty is crucial in times of crisis. While you don’t want to create a climate of fear or paranoia in your interactions with elderly loved ones, you do have to be forthcoming and unambiguous about the risks of COVID-19 transmission.
Early research indicated that older populations face a greater risk of severe health issues connected with the coronavirus. If your loved one is living in a nursing home or care facility, they may well be around many others their age who may be more susceptible to COVID-19. So, you need to be direct about the risks they may encounter. (Plus, let’s face it: Older people are generally able to tell when someone’s hiding something.)
But offer your knowledge with reassurance. While the current environment may be tense, your loved ones are surrounded by people taking the necessary precautions and keeping themselves informed. Whatever happens, they’ll have compassionate and vigilant people caring for them, whether they’re nurses, caregivers, or other family members. The pandemic may be unpredictable, but all are working to make their immediate environment as secure as possible.
Have a plan for public outings and visits.
From time to time, you may need to take your elderly friend or family member on a public outing, whether it’s a shopping trip, doctor’s visit, or simply the need to change the scenery for a bit. When that happens, they’ll see a vastly different world than what they’re used to: people in masks, restricted shopping hours, customers waiting to get into a capacity-controlled market, closed storefronts, and so forth.
You may have to do certain functions they’ve never seen you do before: calling ahead of arrival for a doctor visit, picking up a curbside food delivery, remaining a distance from familiar friends—perhaps even having your temperature taken before entering certain establishments.
None of these actions or situations are ordinary. But just as you’ll explain what’s happening in their immediate surroundings, you’ll be able to explain them to your senior in a practical, informed, and humane manner. Make sure they’re fully prepared for the unusual things they’ll see when you head out together.
Lack of social interaction is one by-product of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s especially significant for the elderly. Restrictions on personal contact can be difficult to emotionally manage when a senior is used to visiting with family and friends who always come to see them.
Once again, forthright and compassionate explanations of the risk are useful when helping your senior understand why personal visits may not be possible for a while. Explain your considerations of the risks posed both to and from your elderly loved ones, as well as the risk to others in their community. In fact, you should assess your own comfort level in visiting an older friend or relation and clarify your reasonings to them.
Encourage your senior loved one to take advantage of technology to keep in touch with friends and family. Face-to-face visits over computers, smartphones, and tablets using programs like Zoom, Skype, FaceTime and more are now commonplace, accessible, and uncomplicated. If your senior loved one needs help, offer to outfit their devices with the software they need to run those programs.
Rely on caregivers
Your elderly loved one’s in-home or on-staff caregiver is a VIP that can help you manage their overall health and happiness. A qualified and compassionate caregiver monitors your senior for health issues, helps them stay active, and keep their daily routine as consistent as possible.
Caregivers provide certain functions that may duplicate your responsibilities—which makes them easier to carry out and gives you some relief. This can include running errands, taking them shopping, providing transportation, or maintaining their premises.
Speak with your elderly loved one’s caregiver to plan the duties each of you is responsible for, along with specific concerns about their health and security during the COVID-19 pandemic. And don’t forget to thank them every chance you get.
If you or your family member is considering in-home care as part of a plan to age in place, contact Family Matters In-Home Care today for a free consultation. Our team is dedicated to supporting your family and helping older adults enjoy life in the comfort of their own home for as long as possible.
Some of the services offered by Family Matter In-Home Care include: Alzheimer’s & Dementia Care, Bed & Wheelchair Transfer Assistance, Companionship, Housekeeping & Meal Preparation, Personal Care, Recovery Care, and Transportation.