The stay-at-home orders and social distancing mandates stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic have been tough on everyone. Parents are balancing remote work and homeschooling, teens are missing out on proms and graduation, and kids are missing playdates, visits from grandparents and the normalcy of school days. Seniors, identified early in the pandemic as a high-risk population, are significantly affected by these measures to stay safe. Because maintaining independence, staying active, and connecting with family and the broader community are so important to seniors’ mental and physical health, these life-altering changes may weigh heavily on their minds and moods. For these and other reasons, your senior loved one may be reluctant to follow recommendations for staying at home and social distancing.
What can you do to convince the seniors in your life to stay home, and how can you make this time a little easier for them to manage?
Why Seniors Should Stay HomeAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and many other national and global health authorities, adults 65 years and older are at higher risk for severe illness if they contract COVID-19. That risk is magnified if your loved one has chronic lung disease or severe asthma, a serious heart condition, diabetes, kidney or liver disease, or if they are undergoing treatment for cancer or are otherwise immunocompromised.
Despite these facts, and the obvious toll this virus is currently taking on the country, some seniors are still resisting the idea of staying home and away from others. Their reasons are varied. Some active, generally healthy seniors just don’t see themselves as “old” or especially at risk. Others just can’t imagine missing moments with their family and friends. Some worry about losing their independence or are generally stubborn.
There are also seniors – spurred by the mixed messaging coming from federal and state governments and media outlets and perhaps influenced by social media-driven conspiracy campaigns – who believe the pandemic is a hoax, a ploy by the government for increased control or largely overblown. That leaves you to be the voice of reason in their lives. Where should you begin?
Explain the Dangers of COVID-19 Exposure
While it is true that many people infected with this coronavirus will develop mild-to-moderate symptoms that can be managed at home, and some may show no symptoms at all, this is still a dangerous virus. Humans have had no previous exposure, so our immune systems can overreact or underreact, leading to serious illness. People from every age group have been affected by severe illness leading to hospitalization, time in an intensive care unit, the need for a ventilator, and in some cases, death – but the risk is much greater for older adults.
Increasingly, doctors treating seriously ill COVID-19 patients are finding that the virus not only attacks the lungs, which can cause severe pneumonia, lung scarring and dangerously low blood oxygen levels, but infection can also lead to:
- Organ failure, affecting several organs
- Heart problems
- Blood clots, which can lead to stroke
- Acute kidney injury
- Secondary viral and bacterial infections
- Dangerous inflammatory post-viral syndromes (now being identified in children)
Even if your senior loved ones are not worried about themselves when it comes to these potentially severe outcomes, they may be convinced to practice social distancing for the sake of their relatives and friends. Point to emerging risks for severe illness in some children, or mention a friend or relative with a chronic condition who could be endangered by interacting with an asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic individual. It’s important that you also set a good example by staying away from social settings whenever possible and donning a cloth mask when you do have to venture out in public.
Share CDC Resources with Your Senior Loved OneThe CDC provides COVID-19 guidance for older adults, including information about risk factors and symptoms, tips for prevention and what to do in case of illness, resources for managing mental and emotional health, and even instructions for making and wearing a cloth mask.
Read through these resources yourself and then do so together with your loved one, or print and highlight information you feel is most important and share with them.
Create an Action Plan
If you have convinced your loved one that staying at home and social distancing is in their, and everyone else’s, best interest, you’ll need a plan for helping them manage. Social distancing impacts many areas of our lives, so here are some key considerations:
- Help seniors maintain social connections. If your loved one has a computer, tablet or smartphone with audio/video capabilities, talk them through setting up a video-chat program so they can see their grandchildren, relatives and friends. Many families have also figured out ways to have social-distance-friendly visits by sitting on front lawns or decks and chatting from a distance or through doors. For the technology-resistant senior in your life, especially if distancing visits aren’t possible, encourage frequent phone calls with loved ones and friends and encourage grandchildren to write letters and draw pictures so they can correspond by mail.
- Make sure they stay stocked with supplies. If your loved one isn’t frequenting the pharmacy or grocery store, they’ll need another way to obtain prescriptions and food. See if they can get their prescriptions switched to home delivery, or if you can pick them up in the pharmacy drive-through and drop them at your loved one’s door. If possible, schedule grocery deliveries for seniors, or if you’re still shopping (safely) for your family, pick up their items as well and drop them off.
- Put a plan in place for illness or emergencies. Create an emergency contact list including family members and healthcare providers that your loved one can reach out to if they start feeling ill, from COVID-19 or otherwise, or if they’re facing an emergency. Tell your loved one to take note of any concerning symptoms like fever, cough or shortness of breath. Reassure them that dealing with symptoms early is the best bet for their health, and that visiting the emergency room is the safest option if they have symptoms of something serious like pneumonia, heart attack or stroke. If your loved one is feeling ill, check in often and call their doctor if you are concerned. The following symptoms warrant IMMEDIATE medical attention:
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion
- Inability to wake or stay awake
- Bluish lips or face
- Signs of a stroke
- Help seniors manage their mental health. This pandemic is causing increased stress, anxiety and depression among many people, and seniors may be especially at risk. There are things you can do to help your loved one manage. Encourage them to take breaks from reading or watching the news and focus instead on hobbies, reading, calling loved ones or watching a favorite show or movie. Share the importance of adequate sleep and healthy meals – and encourage them to stay active by stretching or participating in virtual workouts like an online yoga class or aerobics video. Let them know you are available if they need to talk.
Help Seniors Maintain Independence While Social DistancingEmphasize that you are having conversations with them about the importance of staying home and social distancing out of love and concern, not because you are trying to control their life or take away their independence. Explain that everyone is in a similar situation and that these practices are meant to protect and preserve the health of as many people as possible. Ask them what they need and what would make managing this situation a little easier. Encourage engagement – whether that means helping them purchase and figure out technology needed for video-chatting or playing games with family and friends, letting them make their own lists for grocery deliveries, or using their talents for good, like sewing masks.
Find Out Why They’re Willing to Break Quarantine – and Find SolutionsAgain, this comes down to talking with your loved one. There are many reasons they may be unwilling to stay at home or feel compelled to break quarantine. There are ways you can help with most of them. If they’re lonely, encourage more frequent phone calls, video chats and socially distant visits. If they need food or medications, help them set up deliveries. If they’re bored, send books, crossword puzzles, knitting supplies, DVDs, scrapbooking materials – whatever things to do you think they’ll most enjoy. And it never hurts to send a special surprise like flowers, cookies or even a sweet card to brighten someone’s mood.
If their willingness to break quarantine stems from confusing messaging or inaccurate reports they’ve heard through social media, websites, friends and our leaders, you may face a tougher challenge. Focus on the fact that you love them and care about their well-being – and that you know they care about their kids, grandkids and community – to encourage safer behaviors.
How Elmcroft Communities Can HelpTo stay up to date about COVID-19 and possible effects on our communities, check the Elmcroft blog often.