The priority of older adults, Dr. Haase explains, is to make the most of their limited time on earth, and their highest value is social connection. “For them, being home alone with just their thoughts and nowhere to go can be a frightening place.”
And then there’s the fact that older adults may not see themselves as, well, old. “Older adults may not think of themselves as being at heightened risk for Covid-19 because old age carries a lot of stigma. There’s a huge reluctance to view oneself in those terms.”
How to Be Heard
So how do you explain your concerns to older relatives?
Dr. Brach believes it begins with self-understanding. “When you talk to them, ask yourself, what’s going on for you? Once you start to name what’s going on underneath under all the agitation, you get to your anticipatory grief: You don’t want to lose them.”
Dr. Beck recommends a simple, practical approach for coping, and managing anxiety, when older relatives don’t see the risks the way you do. “The idea is, you want to invert that — you have to manage your own anxiety first.”
She suggested being direct, providing solid reasoning and being clear about the consequences. “You tell them why you’re worried, and why you want them to do this thing,” she said. “It has to be rational. It can’t just be because ‘I know better and I say so.’”
And you may have to acknowledge the worst case scenario. “So it might be like, ‘Mom, you’re living in Florida, and you’re going to the beach. I cannot stop you. But if you get sick, I can’t come see you. And if you die, you may die alone, and I won’t be there.’ This may sound harsh, but it’s true. Let them sit with the real possibility of what may happen.”
When all else fails, Dr. Brach espouses the art and power of radical acceptance, both for our loved ones and ourselves.