We can all agree that navigating the COVID-19 landscape can be frustrating and scary. Everyone is worried about family members, especially if they are older. According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), older adults and people with chronic health conditions are among those at high risk for serious illness. What do you do if you feel your at-risk older loved one isn’t taking the virus seriously enough? 

Here are some tips on having that all important conversation without nagging or preaching: 

older woman coughing

Who do they trust?

Elderly loved ones are, well, older than you. They have seen a lot and even if you are way past 30 they still may see you as a child. Chances are you have had similar conversations focusing on let’s say driving, memory or simple daily tasks. The bottom line is your loved wants to remain independent. 

Find out who your loved one trusts. It could be friends, favorite news outlets or a faith leader. Also, determine where they are getting their information. 

Helping your elderly loved one find the most reliable information is important. You can suggest that you review the CDC website together for the most accurate information. It is fine to acknowledge that information changes frequently and checking the website is the most accurate way to stay informed. Also, feel free to suggest they contact their healthcare provider. Many providers are offering online appointments, which avoid an in-person office visit.

Ask questions

Take the time to listen. It is important for you to understand how your loved one feels about the pandemic. Ask questions like “What have you heard about the virus?” or “Have you prepared at all?” Feel free to open the door to a discussion by discussing your own worries or concerns. For example, you might want to talk to them about how you are coping with COVID-19 including wearing a mask, practicing self-health or how you remain connected with people while practicing social distancing. This allows you to voice your concern for them without talking down to them or forcing them to do anything. Things often change so don’t forget to regularly ask how they are doing and how you can help. 

woman talking to older man about staying safe from pandemic

Tone of voice matters

Remember, your elderly loved one has more life experience than you. The ‘preach’ approach is not the best. Avoid pressuring or nagging family members into a certain course of action. This can lead to anger and hurt feelings. In some cases, it can even isolate your elderly loved one, leaving them uncomfortable asking for help when they may need it. Approach these discussions with respect, understanding and love. 

If your family members won’t positively shift behaviors even after you’ve offered information and shared your concerns, then consider respecting their decision to avoid damaging relationships and keep space open for future conversations. 

And, if you find yourself struggling with your loved one’s decision, reach out to a family counselor or healthcare provider to help you cope. To find more resources related to COVID-19 visit the CDC website or your local mental health provider.