How to help older adults navigate the COVID-19 pandemic

Gerontological social worker Amy D’Aprix shares tips.
Published April 17, 2020 1:00 p.m. EST
Last Updated April 20, 2020 3:21 p.m. EST
Some of the most affected people across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic have been loved ones in long-term care facilities. And for those of us whose parents are still living independently, we’re worried about their health and well-being too.Gerontological social worker Amy D’Aprix shares tips on how to help the seniors in our life navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.


There’s this thing that happens when you’re an adult kid. When you’re an adult kid you come from a place of safety when talking to your parents – you simply want them to be safe. However older adults come from a place of independence. They don’t like being told what to do. The best way to talk to them is remind them first that what you’re about to ask them to do is not a removal of independence. This will drop their defenses. It’s all about how you approach the conversation. Keep it casual without being alarming.


Never use is the word “elder”. People often don’t see themselves as an elder so don’t resonate with it. Instead use the term “older adults” because it’s more descriptive. Another word to avoid using is the word “frail”. People don’t like to identify as frail or they might not want to admit that’s what they are.[video_embed id='1913552']New doc highlights challenges older Canadians face as they downsize their lives[/video_embed]


First we need to move away from the term social distancing – instead it should always be called physical distancing. You have to start thinking: how can I socially connect? Have dinner over FaceTime and Zoom with parents or grandparents, or ask grandparents to online entertain their grandkids while you're in a conference call. It makes them feel connected and involved. If your parents are not online, you have to get more creative about finding ways to ensure that the communication you are having feels double or triple to them. Most people over the age of 65 have a phone and even if they can’t FaceTime, you can always drive over and chat through an open window.


If they are online it makes it much easier – there are games, exercise classes being conducted online. They can play games online and even play games with their grandchildren online. There are also lots of brain games online…If they aren’t online and enjoy crafts or puzzles you could make sure they have a supply of those – there are so many home delivery services – along with books! Encourage your parents to get on FaceTime or Zoom for your daily dinners or happy hour!


The most important thing you can do is stay away from instilling fear. You have to explain that what you are doing is keeping grandma and grandpa safe but it’s just temporary. Another way to explain it is: You know when you see an ambulance on the road and everyone is moving out of the way, that’s what we are doing right now. We are just moving out of the way to keep others safe.[video_embed id='1939117']BEFORE YOU GO: How the government will help long-term care homes meet new guidelines[/video_embed]

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