COVID-19: How to care for elderly relatives

Two elderly people sitting on a couch with a woman on the floor in between.

Blanche Clark

Posted April 08, 2020

Reach out to elderly loved ones with virtual hugs during COVID-19 crisis.

Aged-care advocate, author and comedian Jean Kittson is encouraging everyone affected by COVID-19 restrictions to reach out to their elderly relatives with virtual hugs. 

As the virus and strict social distancing measures have gathered momentum since her new book We Need to Talk About Mum and Dad hit the shelves last month, she has tweaked her message to: “We really need to talk to Mum and Dad”. 

Jean had become accustomed to visiting her parents Elaine, 95 and Roy, 92, once a week at their aged-care residential unit, but as aged care facilities have introduced new visiting restrictions to protect vulnerable residents, she’s finding other ways to stay in touch.

“We need to talk about our parents even more now to make them feel loved, connected and valued,” Jean says. “I usually visit my parents once a week, but now I’m ringing them every day. I encourage people to ring their loved ones and give them these virtual hugs.”

Her new book is a practical guide to “parenting ageing parents” and contains personal stories and expert advice on legal and financial issues, Australia’s aged-care system, support programs, palliative care and funerals.

She advises those with elderly parents to make sure they can make decisions around their parents’ health and wellbeing, including becoming a nominee if they need to deal with My Aged Care and Centrelink. 

“Make sure you are authorised to speak to their utilities on their behalf,” she says. “And understand the differences between acute and chronic illnesses, so you can better understand what medical staff are talking about in regard to treatments they can and can’t offer.”

Council on the Ageing (COTA) Victoria Chief Executive Officer Tina Hogarth-Clarke says everyone should look out for older members of the community.

‘We’ve all become aware of what we need to do to reduce the incidence of COVID19,” she says. “But it’s important to support older Victorians and to think creatively about how we can stay connected and how we can practice self-care,” 

She says the Australian Government’s new strengthened guidelines will help protect aged-care residents and COTA Australia has worked with the Department of Health to develop a fact sheet for older Australians on COVID-19. 

She recommends checking in regularly with older friends or relatives and see how you might help. “A simple trip to the supermarket or pharmacy on their behalf is a practical way to help older people who may not be able to go on their own,” she says.

Although physical contact might be limited, conversations and connectedness can continue through technology. This includes using face-to-face calls via FaceTime WhatsApp, Zoom, Skype and Messenger.

Or write a letter. Australia Post remains open as an essential service during the Government’s emergency response plan to COVID-19.

“Sharing knowledge, our concerns and moments of joy can make the world of difference. Compassionate community building has never been more needed,’ Tina says.

How to keep our elders connected 

  • Rediscover the art of letter writing. 
  • Start a story and alternate who writes the next chapter. 
  • Send a care package. 
  • Share photos or memories online, by email or post. 
  • Pick up the phone and call or FaceTime them. 

For those with a computer, tablet or smartphone 

  • Establish a book club or podcast group. 
  • Form a virtual movie group that focuses on old favourites or a movie on TV or a streaming channel. 
  • Play online free games such as sudoku, word puzzles, Uno and checkers. 
  • Listen to podcasts or an audiobook through a free library service, ABC’s listen app, Apple podcasts, Stitcher or Spotify. 

COTA Information helpline 

1300 135 090 (Monday to Friday 9.30am to 4pm) 

We Need To Talk About Mum and Dad, Jean Kittson, Picador, $34.99