How to look after elderly parents during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis

How to look after elderly parents during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis

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As restrictions in the UK are put in place to limit our movements and help slow down the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), it’s only natural to worry about elderly parents. It may be many months without physical contact, which could mean a long stretch of isolation for older and high-risk people.


It’s normal to feel a bit overwhelmed during this unprecedented time and to worry about older family members. There are things you can do to help, however, and we will look at some of the common issues you might be facing.


How can I care for my elderly parents during the coronavirus outbreak?


If your parent or parents live in their own home outside of your household, current UK guidance states that you must not visit them. But that doesn’t mean you can’t help them. Ask them for a list of essential items they need and do their shopping for them. You can leave this on their doorstep and step well back while they open the door to collect the goods. This means that they don’t need to go out themselves to collect any food. You should also offer to help with any medication needs, collecting it on their behalf and delivering to the doorstep. If they have trouble bending down to pick things off the floor, you could organise a small table or chair outside the door that you can place shopping on to make it easier.


If you are a caregiver for your elderly parent(s), the guidance does allow you ‘to provide care or to help a vulnerable person’. If you need to go in their home, be sure to practise proper social distancing measures if you’re able to, although if you help with personal care, this won’t be practical. What you can do is ensure that you touch as little as possible in their home, and clean any surfaces and equipment thoroughly before you leave. You should also be sure to wash your hands as soon as you arrive, frequently while you are there, and before you leave their home.


If your elderly parents use external care workers who come in, they will also have been briefed on correct practice. Make sure that care workers have your contact details and keep in touch with you about your parents’ welfare and any concerns. We have put together an in-depth guide for carers and what paid carers should be doing with regards to the coronavirus, which you could pass on if appropriate.


If you parents are resident in a care home, you won’t be able to visit them for the time being, but you can ask for regular updates on their health and well-being, as well as stay in touch with them in other ways.


As well as ensuring your parents are well looked-after from a care and support point of view, you can make sure they have plenty of distractions around the home. This might mean leaving them puzzles, newspapers, books, DVDs or other forms of entertainment on their doorstep to help cope with the isolation period. You can also give them ideas for staying fit and healthy, even while at home.


What if I live a long distance from my parents?


For many of us, the hardest part of the current situation is that we don’t actually live close to our parents. This means we can feel helpless and unable to help in a practical way. If you have siblings who live close by, they can help with practical jobs like those detailed above, which can offer peace of mind.


However, if your parents live alone and away from other family, it can be a worrying time. It’s important to check in regularly (see more on keeping in touch below), to make sure that they are getting on okay.


You can help with some practical measures, such as sending food parcels, arranging online deliveries and liaising with their surgery with regards to any medication that needs to be delivered. There may be services operating in their local area to help deliver food and medicine to older people in isolation, so see if there is anything like that in their community.


You might also want to consider getting some telecare essentials in their home. Things like an emergency call button or fall-detection band can help you feel more reassured.


How can I keep in touch with elderly relatives?


It can be hard to go for a long period of time without seeing your parents, but it is very important to stay in touch. For older people, long periods of isolation can have a huge impact. This can have a detrimental effect on their mental health.


Luckily, with modern technology, there are ways to stay in touch with people from afar. Of course, it might not be practical to introduce your parents to things like Skype if they’re not familiar with this technology. If you do have a way of contacting them via video call, this can be a lovely chance to spend virtual time together. This way they can see their grandchildren, for example, and have a long chat.


If this isn’t possible, then make sure that you phone regularly to check in and give them some company. When you speak to them, arrange a time of when you will next call, so that they know when they can next expect to hear from you. This can help on lonely days, knowing that there will be some company, albeit over the phone, coming soon.


And don’t forget about non-digital ways to stay in touch. This might be the perfect time to hone your letter-writing skills, for example, which can be very heart-warming to receive through the door. You could also include photographs of your family or small gifts.


What if your elderly parents want to carry on as normal?


You might find that your parents have decided that they want to carry on their life as normal, rather than follow the new instructions that have been issued to protect them. This can put you in a difficult position as their child. You know that they are more vulnerable to this coronavirus, and yet it is hard to parent your parents.


It’s important to try and talk to them. Calmly explain your concerns and the risks, but don’t judge their behaviour. The urgency of the situation and the instructions set might not have hit them yet, so you can gently, but firmly, inform them. Offer to help with things like groceries and getting a newspaper, and suggest ways to stay in touch and what they can do while at home. This can be difficult to do over the phone, but it’s important to set an example and not do it in person.


You may find that they don’t want to listen to you as you, so you may have to engage the help of a sympathetic friend or other family member. You could also provide them with advice given via news or community sources that they trust and follow.

  • Published on Mar 30, 2020

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