Dos & Don’Ts When Caring For Older Loved Ones During A Pandemic

No group has been more severely impacted by the COVID pandemic than the nation’s elderly. Not only has the disease disproportionately taken the lives of senior citizens, it has also created devastating isolation for our elderly loved ones. Malaka Gharib of National Public Radio consulted with three experts and offered the following tips for keeping them safe and happy during this extended pandemic…

  1. DON’T Assume You Know What’s Best for Them.
  2. DO Ask How the Older Person Is Feeling and Really Listen.
  3. DO Encourage the Older Person to Find Their Own Solutions to Their Problems.
  4. DON’T Assume Older People Can’t Learn New Skills.
  5. DO Consider Cultural Needs.
  6. DON’T Forget to Call.
  7. DO Acknowledge the Hard Work of Caretakers — And Find Ways to Help Them

Here are some further thoughts on this great advice…

DON’T Assume You Know What’s Best for Them.

You might be considering an action that you believe will help make your elderly loved one more safe (e.g., a change to their residence or their normal routine to reduce exposure to COVID). Rather than making a decision on their behalf, offer your loved one a choice of options, listing the pros and cons. Be prepared for the possibility that they may weigh quality of life over their own safety.

DO Ask How the Older Person Is Feeling and Really Listen.

When people ask us how we are doing, the answers “Fine!” or “Good!” often fly out of our mouths without even thinking. There’s an instinct to keep conversations pleasant and avoid subjects that are negative. It can also be embarrassing to admit when we are struggling or feeling vulnerable, especially for an older relative who is often accustomed to being the protector and provider. It’s important to ask lots of questions, beyond “How are you?” and really listen to the answers. Having all the answers is not the point. It’s far more important to simply listen to their feelings, to establish a relationship where your older loved ones are comfortable discussing their feelings and frustrations, and learning to recognize the signals when your loved one isn’t doing great.

DO Encourage the Older Person to Find Their Own Solutions to Their Problems.

It’s not important that you have all the answers. In fact, it’s more productive if you help your older loved one consider their own solutions to their concerns. As a good listener, you can get your loved one to express their issues and follow up by asking them to suggest what you can do to help.

DON’T Assume Older People Can’t Learn New Skills.

As we get older, our roles seem to reverse. We become the people our older relatives rely upon for support and assistance. It is easy to begin doing tasks for our loved ones that they can do for themselves with a little instruction and practice. This is especially true with technology. Encourage your loved one to embrace new technologies, especially sources of communication (e.g., Zoom) and entertainment (e.g., Netflix) to help minimize the isolation of the pandemic. Empower them to set it up on their own rather than doing it for them. It’s often faster and easier to troubleshoot issues for your loved one, but it’s better to teach them how common tech problems are solved, for when you’re not around.

DO Consider Cultural Needs.

It’s important to consider the cultural background of older people. This can make seemingly easy decisions more complex. For instance, in some cultures there is mistrust of healthcare facilities, healthcare professionals, and medical research. It can also lead us to overlook things that are of importance to our loved ones. For instance, a vital part of their social and spiritual life might be going to church, and they can no longer attend for safety reasons.

DON’T Forget to Call.

Whether your loved one is in a nursing home or living independently, they are probably experiencing far less social interaction than before the pandemic. Be sure to call frequently to help replace that sense of connection to the world and the people they care about.

DO Acknowledge the Hard Work of Caretakers — And Find Ways to Help Them

Nursing home staff and home health care workers have an extremely difficult and often thankless job. During the pandemic, many of them risk their lives to serve our loved ones, and they have an immense impact on their health and happiness. When you can, thank them for their efforts and let them know how much you appreciate them, perhaps with a gift basket or by ordering their favorite meal. Ask how you can make their job easier or better and volunteer your assistance.

Our attorneys at Brown & Barron, LLC focus on representing nursing home residents who have been neglected or abused. We know first-hand how these facilities function, and just how vulnerable residents are to injuries. If you believe you or a family member has suffered as a result of nursing home negligence, we invite you to contact our team as soon as possible to learn more about your rights and options.

To learn more about how the coronavirus is affecting nursing homes and their residents, visit our COVID Resource Center. To contact our team, call (410) 698-1717 today for a consultation.

Older woman looking out a window
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