Enforcing Social Distancing for Elderly Relatives

May 28, 2020 | Elder Law, Minnesota Estate Planning

With nearly every region in the country living under some type of “stay at home” or “shelter in place” order during the current novel coronavirus pandemic, it can be frustrating trying to adhere to these new rules. It’s even more challenging for those of us who are responsible for making sure others are staying isolated such as our children and our elderly parents. In particular, trying to convince someone who is used to having their freedom and independence that they need to stay home as much as possible can be a struggle.

If your parents have reached their retirement years and they are still completely independent, you may find yourself facing some role reversal. Don’t be surprised if you catch yourself sounding like your parents did when you were younger, lecturing about staying out too long and being around strangers. And just like you did as a teen or young adult, they may push back and tell you that you’re overreacting, that they know how to take care of themselves. (Hopefully, they’ll get a laugh out of it if you point out this irony to them.)

The most important and possibly most challenging aspect of getting your aging parents to practice social distancing and isolation is convincing them of the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic. With everything that their generation has survived, they may see this as just another difficult time in history that they will get through. The fact is that no matter what their physical health is like at the moment, people ages 65 and older are more susceptible to the virus and have a higher mortality rate. Provide them with stories of young, healthy individuals who have contracted the novel coronavirus and become seriously ill. Show them that people of all ages, with or without underlying health conditions, are battling severe symptoms that could be fatal.

It’s nerve-wracking when you fear for the lives of everyone you love and you can’t seem to get your aging parents to comprehend that this is a very real, very legitimate fear. While you’re stockpiling hand sanitizer, they’re still going to their favorite restaurants and making plans for their next cruise (now at rock bottom prices!). However, as much as you want to yell at them over the phone to JUST STAY HOME, that method probably isn’t going to be very effective.

Try taking a more gentle and subtle approach to get them to stay at home. Talk them into taking up or getting back into a hobby like sewing or crochet. Encourage them to work on at-home projects like gardening or woodworking. Start a family book club or have family movie nights, get everyone on a call or video chat to discuss the book or movie. Have your kids call them and ask them questions about their own childhood, get an oral family history from them. If they’re tech savvy enough, send them links to websites or mobile apps that they can use to play word games with you or your kids. Encourage them to shop online and use curbside pickup or order food and have it delivered. Basically, just make it easier for them to stay at home rather than trying to convince them not to go out.

There may be some yelling, there may be some tears, but if that’s what it takes to protect the senior citizens in your life from this horrible virus, it’s worth it.