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5 Tips for Talking to Older Adults about COVID-19

Published on Mar. 24, 2020

Older adult coronavirus Munson Healthcare

Adults 65 and older are at a higher risk for severe illness due to COVID-19. Eight out of 10 deaths reported in the US have been adults 65 and older, according to the CDC. Older adults and people who have severe underlying conditions, such as heart or lung disease or diabetes, are at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19.

However, many older adults are resisting the “social distancing” guidance and some are trying to continue living life as they always have. Younger adults may be feeling like the roles have been reversed, telling their parents to stay inside and avoid crowds. So how do you talk to older adults (and anyone!) about COVID-19?

Here are a few things you can do:


1. Ask questions

Find out their current thoughts about the pandemic and what precautions they are taking by asking pointed questions about their daily routine. Are they well stocked with food or picking up a few things the grocery store every day? Are they running non-essential errands like going to the home goods store for new place mats or the hardware store for fertilizer? Are they practicing social distancing or still socializing with friends? Use that information as a baseline to start your conversation.


2. Find and share trusted sources of information Older adult coronavirus Munson Healthcare

There is a lot of confusing information out there about the new coronavirus and COVID-19. If the older adults you know are getting their information from their Facebook feed, they’re likely not getting the best information. Some of the best, trusted sources are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. (Click here for a blog on Trusted Sources.) Help older adults find a few trusted sources of information to stay current on the news and recommendations.


3. Frame conversations with sensitivity

Many older people don’t see themselves as “elderly,” “old,” or “at risk,” especially if they are relatively healthy and active. Let them know the actions you are taking personally, including working from home, social distancing, FaceTiming friends instead of visiting, homeschooling your children, and more. If they are not convinced, appeal to their sense of compassion for those people they consider “old” – such as their parents or other relatives, neighbors or friends. Emphasize the things they can do – take a walk, catch up with friends, take up a new hobby, make a new recipe (with ingredients on hand), dig in the garden.


4. Offer your servicesGrocery store older adult Munson Healthcare

If you are a healthy adult, offer your services to help out the older adults in your life. If you’re going to the grocery store, ask if you can pick anything up for them, or talk them through setting up an online delivery service. Encourage them to use FaceTime, set up regular chats with friends and use technology to their advantage. Offer to be their tech support if they need help navigating these waters.


5. Emphasize actions

Review the things older adults can do to help protect themselves.

  • Stay home if possible.
  • Wash your hands often
  • Avoid close contact (6 feet, which is about two arm lengths) with people who are sick.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched services.
  • Avoid all cruise travel and non-essential air travel.
  • Call your healthcare professional if you have concerns about COVID-19 and your underlying condition or if you are sick. 

Older adults coronavirus Munson Healthcare

For more information on steps you can take to protect yourself, see CDC’s How to Protect Yourself or visit Munson Healthcare. The State of Michigan also has these resources to stay up-to-date and have questions answered.