The world is changing. This has always been true (change IS a constant) but the rate of change has been ever-increasing in recent years. Clearly, the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated certain changes. The full scope of all this is yet to be seen and fully understood. But we can already see that more and more people are working from home and this does look to be a trend that will continue beyond the pandemic. This shift towards working from home is creating several opportunities, issues, and challenges. Many of these revolve around young families with children to care for, working mothers, and so forth. Understandably and correctly (these are very real issues for young families). But there are other issues and this is where eldercare comes in…

The elderly have always been a vulnerable group in society. Increasing frailty, physical limitations, cognitive decline, and communication challenges (e.g. vision and hearing problems) are all typical problems. Along comes coronavirus and it is the elderly who are most at risk medically, as we all know. But these same folks also suffer in other less-obvious ways: social isolation, fear, anxiety, limited access to normal non-pandemic care, cancelled or interrupted travel plans, are all significant for the elderly. One way to think about this is to appreciate how difficult change and uncertainty is for the older person. As we age, we really do become more “set in our ways” and we really do dislike changes of any sort. A worldwide pandemic that kills millions and creates a whole new way of life, is no walk-in-the-park for any of us, but it is particularly hard for the elderly among us.

Many families live together in multi-generational homes. This may be driven by cultural norms, financial necessity, logistics, care-needs, family-choice, etc. The result is often a happy balanced home where families benefit from general and financial efficiencies and enjoy quality time together while ensuring that the older more frail members are supported by the younger and more able. It is a very workable arrangement for many. But there are some real challenges so let us look at some of these…

Certainty. There are few things more upsetting to the older person than constant uncertainty & change. Grandpa likes to know how his day, and week, and month, will be. He likes plans that are simple, clear, and do not change. It’s a great idea to create and stick to clear routines and schedules as much as possible. Communicate simply, use a white-board or fridge diary, or something similar. Try to make sure that you explain, and repeat, daily schedules etc. Try to stick to arrangements and times as much as possible.

Peace. It’s very likely that your older parent does not appreciate noisy chaotic scenes around the house. The reasons for this are many and complex (hearing challenges, energy levels, concentration ability, etc.) but we all know this to be true. It’s so easy to forget how your parent experiences your noisy dinner time where you’re trying to feed your toddlers and schoolkids. Try to make the home a peaceful tranquil place as much as you can. That said, you’ll not want to limit your kids too much either; it’s a question of compromise. As an example, this writer has a rule at home, where the first and last hour of each day, and an hour around each meal is a designated “quiet time in the home” where we do not shout, we do not use screens or play music, and only one person speaks at a time.

Nutrition. We all need to eat well to be well. This applies to the elderly person too. But shopping and cooking can be quite a chore for your older parents, so this is really a great way for you to help. Try to plan meals so that your parents do get a balanced diet that they also enjoy. Please remember that food is sometimes one of the most important, and last, pleasures, the older person has. So it really IS important that food is a pleasure. This is another area for compromise (Granny may not like the way you make your scrambled eggs) but if you make it a priority it can be done.

Boundaries. You are trying hard to make your parents’ lives as healthy and fulfilling as you can. But you are not a martyr. Nor is your family. You have your own lives too. You will want to be clear about things like work (from home or otherwise), exercise, me-times, socialising, entertaining friends at home, etc. We cannot tell how exactly how to manage each of these things, but we can remind you that you will ned boundaries that everyone respects.

Healthcare. We develop medical problems as we age. Modern medicine offers a lot and people can quite reasonably expect to live better and longer than ever before. So you’ll want to make sure your older parent has regular medical checks and uses any medications correctly. This is a key area where family support makes a huge difference. One point: in the time of Covid-19, many people have delayed or postponed or even cancelled non-covid healthcare. This is understandable of course, but often a mistake. While some minor complaints may be amenable to simple self-care, many are not. We are starting to realise the extent of this problem and so more and more experts are strongly advising everyone to continue with “normal healthcare” as much as possible. It’s true that at peak-times where pandemic spread is high, some healthcare services are curtailed or even stopped, most services continue to operate. Either way, we recommend that you do what you can to see that normal care continues, for your full family but especially the older members.

You. This article has focussed on the elderly. Your parents probably. And a lot of it is about what you can do for them. But you must look after yourself too. You are no good to anyone if you’re exhausted, stressed, and burnt-out. You also deserve a life. So please look after yourself. Take time to exercise. Eat properly. Rest enough. For you and for your family.

Hopefully this article gives you some ideas around how to manage eldercare in these challenging times. Each person and each family is unique but these principles can be applied quite widely with a little thought.