How To Adjust To The New Normal Of Distancing From Aging Parents
Across our country, there is no uniform message about how much we can visit and socialize with others, particularly our aging parents. We know for certain that people over 65 are at greater risk for getting sick from Covid-19 than younger people but that does not tell us what’s ok or not about visiting when hospitals are not involved. We just know we don’t want to put older loved ones at unnecessary risk. Staying away has its cost to everyone. We have to be smart and inventive to adjust to the risks of close contact with aging parents. Some things can work a lot better than saying to yourself that you have to wait until this is all over before you can see them in person.
We know that being outdoors is less dangerous than being together indoors. The air circulation outside decreases the risk of transmitting the virus by breathing out, talking, laughing, singing or raising your voice than it would doing these things inside. What can you do outside with an aging loved one? A socially distanced get together can work. Chairs and other seating have to be at least six feet apart. This creates a problem for elders who don’t hear well. But, it’s better than not seeing them. Weather is a factor too—excessive heat, cold, or wind can be hard on an aging person whose ability to adjust to temperature changes is not as good as the ability of a younger person. Imagine a good weather day and a way to visit aging parents in relative safety.
What do you need? Masks are essential for preventing transmission but you have to take it off to eat or drink. Just be sure you maintain that six feet or more distance and you can at least share an outdoor meal with your aging parent. A patio, driveway, porch, back yard or other setting can help create a safer space than being indoors in Mom’s living room. Shade is necessary too, easy enough to create with umbrellas or other structures.
As fall approaches we won’t have as many good weather days to allow the choice of being outdoors with aging parents, so take advantage of this time. Watch the weather reports closely and pick a time to plan that get together. Think carefully through what you need to have on hand, whether you are hosting or going to your aging parent’s residence. Masks for all, hand sanitizer, plastic utensils that can be tossed afterwards, and sanitary wipes can help keep the event safer.
Having done one socially distanced backyard gathering myself lately for the first time since this pandemic began, I can speak from experience: it was wonderful to be with people in person! We limited the event to 8 people. We sat six feet apart. Instead of one big table for a meal together, we had little side tables for each person by their chair or bench. The food table was set up with lots of individually wrapped or pre-portioned pieces and we took turns going to the table. No one entered through the house, but all went around the outside through a side gate. It worked quite well. If my own sense of relief at actually seeing friends in person, masks and all, is any indication of what it would be like for your family and your elders, this is definitely something to try. Simply put, it felt great!
We have to adapt these days. No end of this pandemic is really in sight. Some areas are doing better than others in the U.S., but no one can honestly pretend that there is nothing to worry about now. Many of our elders were feeling somewhat isolated before Covid-19. Things for them got much worse when isolation to save lives became a mandate. If your loved one is not in a seniors’ home with its own rules about visiting or going out, you can come up with a way to get together in person with every possible safety measure in place. Yes it is a lot of work to figure out how and what to do. (The planning I did took hours). My message here is to do something to enable safe gathering with aging parents insofar as these limits we face will permit.
Get those outdoor gatherings going as much as you can before cold weather takes away your opportunity with aging loved ones. And when that is not possible, call them frequently. If you, yourself are juggling multiple conflicting responsibilities can can’t call as much as you’d like, consider having a program of volunteers make daily calls to your aging parent. These social calls are done by organized young folks, by community programs and by towns and cities that have adopted the Village concept.
The takeaway here is that aging parents need social contact more than ever during this time. We can arrange it, initiate it, and execute the plan for their sake and ours. Distancing and safe measures do not have to mean being totally cut off. They are simply part of our new normal and we all must adjust. And making it happen can be very uplifting for everyone there. There is something beautiful about being together in person.