If you’re more tech savvy, socially networked, or otherwise resourced than your aging parents, you may be tempted to believe that you’re responsible for the way they will weather this season of COVID-19. Invite your loved ones into a conversation that honors all their experience and wisdom. At the same time, be mindful that even though they are your parents, they may need your help taking necessary precautions. Together you can discover and implement measures that support them during these uncertain days.
1. Notice Their Available Resources
As you consider ensuring that the physical, social, emotional, and spiritual needs of your loved one are met, notice the supports to which they already have access. Are they already in the habit of Skyping with a grandchild or great-grandchild? Does the retirement community where they live have a phone prayer chain for spiritual, social, and emotional support? In conversation with your parent, identify the resources that he or she is already currently accessing.
2. Prioritize Health Needs
Many older adults may already be managing a variety of health issues, and visits to doctors or hospitals may be part of their current routine. But because older people are more physically vulnerable to contracting COVID-19, this may be a moment to prioritize which appointments to keep and which to postpone. For instance, a routine dental checkup might be postponed while a requisite treatment for a current medical crisis might still be a pressing need. Develop strategies together to release what is unnecessary and implement safe and healthy solutions to receive needed care. Also, if they have an exercise routine that needs changing, help them to find routines they can do inside to stay healthy.
3. Suggest Moderating Media Input
Many older adults spending time at home, alone or with support, can become overly invested in what’s being broadcast on the screens in their homes. Whether it’s politics or pandemics, the gift of excess leisure time is not a good match for a media culture in which scrolling headlines read like the most salacious online clickbait. If your loved one is consuming media that causes emotional distress, discuss ways to make healthier choices. Whether it’s restocking supplies to engage in a favorite hobby or craft, or simply sharing regular FaceTime calls, brainstorm alternatives to the constant consumption of media input.
4. Offer the Best Information
If your parent is prone to anxiety, receiving news that may or may not be accurate or helpful from an anxious friend or neighbor won’t help her to feel secure. When you receive reliable information that can help or encourage her — such as the “flatten the curve” graph — share and take time to explain it.
5. Help Them Navigate Tech Challenges and Opportunities
Maybe you gave your in-laws Alexa for Christmas, and she’s still sitting in the box, waiting patiently to be useful. Or maybe your aging parent is able to get online, but doesn’t know how to access the very best sources of news and information. Consider developing a short list of ways that technology can be useful to your loved ones during these days. (Hint: This is also a great opportunity for young people to serve by helping their grandparents and older neighbors.)
6. Make a Plan
If your aging parent is physically vulnerable or medically compromised, work together to develop a plan for how his or her needs will be met. Don’t tackle more than is necessary. Do consider long-term needs and challenges, but create a one-week plan — for safety, food, medicine, and other care — that can be adjusted as needed. Start with the most basic and pressing needs and go from there.
7. Encourage Routine
When the routines in our lives that we’ve come to expect are disrupted — whether school, or work, or worship — we can feel disoriented and ungrounded. Encourage your aging parent to keep his or her daily and weekly routines, even in new iterations. For instance, if your father’s church will be broadcasting Sunday service, create a bookmark on his computer to access the service and show him how to tune in. Or if your mother regularly meets and prays with a friend on Wednesdays, help her figure out FaceTime so that they can still connect. If technology use is a major barrier, consider taking on the responsibility of livestreaming the service from your home, then play the audio over the phone for your parents.
8. Develop Social Solutions
Many aging adults who’ve left the workplace and may not live near lifelong friends, and family members have already seen their social circles shrink over time. Because fighting COVID-19 requires social distancing for all and isolation for some, your older parent may be losing even more of his or her social connections. Get creative about how to make your aging parent’s social opportunities more robust! Enlist a neighborhood child to have her outdoor playtime in your parents’ backyard, where they can watch and enjoy. Or Skype together over dinner to discuss the day. Help your parent enjoy social connections. This could also be a good time to remind your church how they used to support one another before the technology boom. Perhaps it is time for the church to bring back the prayer-chain and call-down trees to support one-another.
9. Reinforce the Agency of Your Loved One
Beyond the physical health risks during these days, many are suffering from anxieties about what we cannot control. (Which, admittedly, is a lot!) To counterbalance that over which we have little or no control — such as availability of testing kits and developing a vaccine or cure for COVID-19 — reiterate all the ways that your loved one does have agency over his or her situation: implementing best practices to reduce the spread of germs, choosing to shelter in place, choosing to limit visitors, etc. Emphasize all that your loved one can do to stay safe and healthy.
10. Witness to a Reliable Helper
As we face new challenges, all of us need to stay spiritually grounded in what is most true about who God is and how God cares for us. If your aging parent is a person of faith, remember together God’s steadfast faithfulness to his people in scripture and in your lives. In times of flood and famine, God remained a faithful provider and helper. If your aging parent is not a person of faith, you may simply choose to share your conviction about God’s great love for the world and the people in it.
11. Care for Others by Praying and Reading Scripture Together (Virtually)
One of the losses often experienced by older adults are opportunities to love and serve others. While many will find ways to love their neighbors wherever they are, others may be grieving the ways they used to care for family members, neighbors, and friends. If he or she is a person of faith, enlist your aging parent to pray for the health and wellbeing of others: family members, a friend who is hospitalized, or even a child he or she might sponsor overseas. Your aging parent may find meaning and purpose in these opportunities to care for others.