How to Talk to Older Adults about COVID-19

The coronavirus (COVID-19) has caused a worldwide pandemic. People who are over 65 are at higher risk from severe disease if they contract COVID-19. So, it’s natural for them to feel especially stressed and worried as we cope with this global health emergency.

Being armed with the right information is the first toward helping older adults deal with stress triggered by this health crisis. If there are older adults in your life, here are some expert tips to help them navigate these challenging times.

Here is some basic advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  that you can share with older adults:

  • The safest thing to do is to stay home. If you must go out for essential errands, stay six feet away from other people. (Six feet equals about two arm lengths.). If you are sick, you must stay home.
  • Also avoid close contact with people who are sick. Keep six feet away from them at all times.
  • Wash your hands often. Wash for at least 20 seconds (sing the Happy Birthday song twice).
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces that you frequently touch.
  • Avoid all cruise travel and non-essential air travel.
  • If you are sick, or have concerns about COVID-19 and an underlying health condition, call your healthcare professional.

You may have heard the phrase “social distancing” when it comes to staying safe. Social distancing means staying home and staying physically apart from other people. This is the best way to prevent the spread of disease. It is strongly recommended by the federal government and your state or city may even have made social distancing mandatory.

Although social distancing is necessary, being physically separated from others can cause isolation and loneliness. This then may be a great time to introduce older family members to using the internet or other digital technology, especially if they’re been resistant to tech in the past. Karen Roberto, PhD, Director of the Institute for Society, Culture and Environment and University Distinguished Professor at the Center for Gerontology, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA says that this technology can help enhance and support older adults keeping in touch with friends and family near and far.

But when you’re helping someone who is new to technology, keep things simple, advises Dr. Roberto. “Avoid ‘technospeak,’ write down directions, and have them practice, practice, practice.”

Portia Jackson Preston, DrPH, Assistant Professor of Public Health at California State University, Fullerton, offers these tips you can share with older adults on coping during this health crisis:

  1. Try to moderate news intake. In our current news cycle, some stories seem to change every hour, while others repeat the same information every day. It can be overwhelming. Try limiting the amount of time spent watching the news each day. Or, take the time to note how you feel before and after watching the news. Modify your habits. If you notice overwhelming feelings after watching the news, you may want to watch less frequently.
  2. Make sure to get outside. It is important to get fresh air and exposure to sunlight each day. Make sure to maintain a distance of six feet from others while outside.
  3. Stay connected with family and friends. We may need to be socially distant, but be careful to avoid being socially isolated. If you have access to a smartphone or computer with internet access, try using Zoom, FaceTime, Skype or other online platforms to see and speak with friends and family. You might also consider making phone calls or writing letters, or texting someone on a daily basis. (If you care for an older adult, consider making these face-to-face connections on their behalf so they can see friends and family members.)
  4. Create an intention. Tell yourself each morning that you will spend time doing something each day that will help you experience joy or relaxation. Setting this intention may make it more likely that you will follow through with it.
  5. Speak with your healthcare provider about any outstanding prescriptions that are due for refills soon. If possible, schedule mail delivery. Many healthcare providers are available online or on the phone. If you are caring for an older adult who cannot manage their prescriptions, make the arrangements for them.


Stay Empowered, Stay Informed

  • CDC 2019 Novel Coronavirus Information Hub
  • Frequently Asked Questions from the World Health Organization
  • Coronavirus Disease Update from Administration for Community Living
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