Aging parents at home during COVID-19: suggestions for adult children
Dr. Sandra Timmermann
Now that states and cities are relaxing some of the COVID-19 restrictions, people of all ages — including older people — are beginning to go to grocery stores, restaurants and hair salons. That can be a worry for adult children of aging parents, especially for those parents who are tempted to go out, but have other conditions that might make them more vulnerable to the virus. While the statistics indicate older persons generally are at greater risk, much depends on their physical status, their mental and emotional health, their risk tolerance and their attitude about life. It’s good to remember that, unless they have cognitive impairment, they have been making decisions their entire life, and that’s not likely to change until very old age, if then.
With that in mind, here are some suggestions as you interact with your parents and figure out how you can be of the most help to them and at the same time, put your own mind at ease.
- Listen to your parents’ concerns
Rather than giving orders to your parents about staying at home, practice good communication skills. Ask them how they are feeling about what is happening with COVID-19 and how they are doing. You won’t be able to force them to do anything, but by communicating with them as a concerned partner, you may have more influence.
- Assess your parents’ health
If your parents have underlying health conditions or show any signs of cognitive decline, it is right to be on high alert. You will help them by being a little more forceful about staying at home and checking up on them to make sure they are okay. However, if your parents are healthy and you believe they are following recommended guidelines, don’t worry too much; they are capable of making their own decisions.
- Help out as much as you can
If you live nearby, you can make your parents’ lives easier by doing some things for them. You might offer to do grocery shopping or bring them things they need. If you live far away, you could help them by setting up online accounts for food delivery or send them personal items they may need. They may be able to do these things on their own, but they probably will be grateful.
- Assist with connectivity through online resources
Some older persons are tech savvy, but others are less so, even if they own laptops, iPads and iPhones. Patience is a virtue. Carve out some time to show them how to set up Zoom, Skype and Facetime so you can do family calls. Find sites that might be of special interest for them, from religious services to online exercise classes.
- Check in frequently
Make special efforts to call and see how your parents are doing. Be tuned in for any red flags. For example, not ordering groceries and not eating well could be a problem. Have your antenna up for any signs of depression, alcohol abuse, self-neglect or health issues that may have cropped up. These may call for interventions, such as telemedicine, telephone crisis hotlines or food delivery.
- Ensure they have legal papers in order
In the worst case, if parents do become infected by the virus and end up in the hospital, you should find out in advance if they have executed living wills, medical powers of attorney and other legal documents. It might be a good time to talk to your parents about what to do in an emergency and get contact information for their attorney, their primary care physician and their financial professionals.
- Be aware of any financial difficulties
Some parents may be at financial risk because of the economic downturn. Find out if they are in danger of missing credit card or mortgage payments or are unable to pay bills for utilities or property taxes. Try not to embarrass them, but with empathy, help them tap into government programs set up to provide a safety net.
- Get the grandchildren involved
Grandchildren are a great joy to their grandparents. This is an opportunity to make a stronger intergenerational connection. Story hours via Zoom, writing cards and drawing pictures, tracing family genealogy and chats via Facetime can go a long way to make both generations happy.
- Respect your parents’ worldview
Don’t scare your parents unnecessarily. Let them know that you love them and are concerned about their well-being. If they are scared, reassure them, and if they are ready to take some calculated risks, try to understand why. Just remember they have lived a long time and have perspectives and experience that will guide them as they navigate the pandemic.
- Plan now for your own retirement
Caring about older family members can serve as a wake-up call for you. You probably gained some insights about aging while you are worrying about the health and safety of your parents. The pandemic also may have triggered some thoughts about where and how you would like to age, and what you would hope for from your own children if you needed care. With so many outside activities curtailed and more free time at home, this is a perfect time for you and your spouse to make or to reevaluate your own retirement plans.