Dear Carol: My dad, a long-retired attorney, age 92, has serious physical problems, but his mind is still sharp. Dad and his network of friends in his age group love getting together. We figured out early on how to help them all set up with technology and they’ve been doing pretty well with it.
What am I worried about? They are all getting restless with the restrictions. Now that there are signs of local businesses opening up, Dad and his friends are starting to feel that they can continue activities just as they had in the past. This means gathering daily in a cafe at a local mall. How can I keep him focused on the risk of infection without making him feel like a prisoner? — TP.
Dear TP: Your worry is shared by many adult children as well as medical professionals who understand that older adults are especially susceptible to COVID-19, but they are also vulnerable to decline when denied social interaction.
For now, remember that many older people aren’t worried about their lifespan so much as they want to enjoy what life they have left. Who can blame them? For this reason, it might be helpful to remind your dad from time to time that he is helping others by physically isolating himself. Focusing on this might help him bear with isolation for a little longer.
Depending on your local infection rate, your dad and his friends might be able to socialize again soon, though it won’t be like before. Depending on how many of them usually gather, they may benefit from having smaller groups for a while. Additionally, since just sharing the air inside a building for any length of time has been shown to increase the risk of infection, they might want to cut their time together short even after they do start meeting.
Better yet, could you help them by researching locally to find a cafe or restaurant that offers outdoor seating, and also keeps chairs distanced? If this place could establish a time for older adults, so much the better.
An even safer option would be to see if one or more of his friends or family members has a home patio that could serve the purpose. Perhaps, families who have been isolating or are otherwise deemed virus-free could help set up a "coffee place" for the older adults in that setting.
The big question for everyone is this: Do older people stay completely isolated for months on end? Sure, they are unlikely to get the virus if they do, but their mental and even physical health could deteriorate substantially.
Trying to balance these realities is what older people and those who love them face. Encourage your dad by assuring him that you will do your best to help him find a relatively safe way that he can get together with his friends, but ask him to give you a little more time to do some research.
You’re being a fantastic caregiver, TP! I wish you and your dad well.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached through the contact form on her website.