March 17, 2020 5:45:34 PM
For many or most of us, having someone elderly in the family is a given – whether that’s a grandparent, parent, aunt or uncle, or a close friend.
And with advice that it is better for those over 70 to try and socially isolate, for the younger generation, it’s a time of worry as we attempt to persuade our older relatives to curb their social activity and stay at home.
However, it’s by no means easy. After all, if someone over 70 feels – and potentially is – well and virus free, they might feel they have no reason to calm things down and stay indoors.
Meanwhile, clubs and classes are usually the key to social interaction that helps older people with mental health and physical exercise, too. From meetups and coffee mornings, to the golf course and poker club or dance class, there will be a feeling among some over 70s that they should not have to self-isolate.
And indeed, that self-isolation would damage their mental and physical health.
So, what’s the best approach to helping them realise that social isolation is the key to staying away from the virus? It’s about understanding how they feel and not being too bullish, as well as remembering you need to then follow your own advice.
Try and stick to clear information
Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-CEO of My Online Therapy, says: “From a psychological perspective, it’s important to be as straight as possible in giving them the correct information in terms of risks whilst also emphasising that this is a phase, and it will pass.
“Emphasise that whilst self-isolation is likely to be difficult, you will be there to support them however you can.”
That might mean reassuring your relative that you can drive round and leave supplies on the doorstep, or making sure their neighbour knows they might need support.
Try and appeal to their ‘fit and active’ side
So your parent or relative is a keen keep fitter, or they often head to the golf course or gym – how can you persuade them the virus isn’t about how fit you are?
Again, use examples from your own life. Saying, ‘I’m not going to the gym now either,’ might show solidarity.
You could also name some celebrities who are clearly fit and well, and in their prime, who are now testing positive. Nobody can argue with Idris Elba, can they?
If you’re doing online fitness videos, share some links to ones they might enjoy, or you could agree to go for a short walk ‘together’ using video chat apps at the same time of day.
Remind them ‘it’s not just about you’
Telling your parent or relative to stay indoors could be met with, ‘But I feel healthy!’ That’s when it’s time to remind them about their more frail or older friends, local shopkeeper or even their nurse or doctor who could then pass something on.
“Be sure to use statistics so they are fully aware of the risks involved for them compared to younger people. Remind them that self-isolation will only ever be a temporary measure, and if they can tolerate this period then they are very likely to be fine,” says Touroni.
“Try and emphasise that taking the recommended precautions is in their own best interest – but it’s also in the interest of the people who love them and care about their wellbeing.”
They will have lived through what they see as worse…
Charlotte Armitage is a business psychologist at the Yorkshire Academy of Film and Television Acting, and has worked with elderly people. She says: “It’s likely that the older generation have lived through so many adverse life experiences that they have become conditioned not to panic in situations like this.
“Some of our older generations will have lived through the war, losing their loved ones, terrorism, natural disasters and ill health, hence why their attitude to this current situation [could be] more blasé.
Consider that they may have a different view on death
“As people age and start to naturally lose friends and family around them, their attitude towards death changes,” notes Armitage.
“For the younger generation, the idea of dying is frightening because many won’t have thought about this, but the older generation are aware and perhaps more accepting of the reality of death.”
But don’t bombard them with figures about death!
Armitage advises not to hound relatives with news articles. After all, if it was your age group most at risk, would you want to read lots of articles about the possibility of death during an uncertain time?
“Given that they are the age group that will be most impacted by this, you could end up causing them upset, worry and anxiety by forcing the message home to them,” she says.
“If they don’t want to listen, it could be because they are worried already. Video calling will be an important communication tool if the elderly are forced to self-isolate, so make sure that your loved are comfortable using this function.”
Check in with their cupboard and fridge stocks
Calling a relative and asking them what they have to eat and drink can help keep you calm. You could even do a video chat and get them to show you the contents of the fridge. That way you know they’re not just ‘saying’ that they have supplies.
If you live nearby, you can arrange to deliver things and leave them on the doorstep. This support means there is one less excuse for them to ‘have’ to head outdoors.
Be ready to take their advice, too
After all, these are the people who raised you or had a part in your upbringing. So they might have advice that can help you as well.
Ask them for stories of things they’ve coped with, and why they feel strong enough to cope with this. It could be you get a great dialogue going and learn something yourself.