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May 26, 2020

EP14: Having the COVID Conversation with Older Relatives

One thing to keep in mind during this pandemic is that we've seen a significant outbreak of ageism. Ageism is when you are prejudiced about someone or used to stereotype them because of their age alone. It's a major problem globally, and even younger people can experience ageism.

In this week's episode, you'll learn about:

  • Having the COVID Conversation with Older Relatives

Part One of ‘Having the COVID Conversation with Older Relatives’

The first thing we need to understand is that older adults are all different. For some reason, there's this perception by people that all older adults are these old disabled people, and they're all in nursing homes. And that's actually not true. Ninety-five percent of older adults are living in their communities. They're living in their homes. And in a given time, only five percent of people over the age of 65 are in our nation's nursing homes. So, the majority of older people are handling their own business.

“There's a misconception that all older adults are disabled and in nursing homes.” — Melissa Batchelor (01:11-01:19)

Unlike with childhood, we see these developmental milestones. At first, you crawl, then you eventually learn how to walk and run. You're supposed to hit those milestones as you grow up. What happens with aging is that there is no one way to do it. It all depends on the choices that we make when we're young. Do we exercise? Do we get enough sleep? Are we eating the right amount of food? Are we maintaining a healthy weight? All those lifestyle choices impact what we're going to look like when we're old. You need to be up and moving, just like the senior athletes engaged in activities such as yoga and bodybuilding. The worst thing you can do is sit in a chair all day long.

Part Two of ‘Having the COVID Conversation with Older Relatives’

“Tailor your talks with your older relatives based on what they're experiencing.” —  Melissa Batchelor (02:56-03:02)

Here are the common health problems with aging:

  • Functional: How well can you take care of yourself? Movement?
  • Sensory: Hearing & Vision
  • Cognition: Thinking, Memory, & Problem-solving
  • Emotions: Underlying anxiety, depression, or other mental health needs

What are all the emotions that older adults may be dealing with? If you're trying to talk to someone who's super stressed out, they're not going to hear what you're saying. You may be seeing some behaviors just because that person is having a lot of anxiety, depression, or there's some other unmet need. We need to figure out what that is. 

We need to remain socially connected while we're physically distancing. But if you think about someone who's older, who doesn't have a lot of space to move around, this is going to impact their ability to stay healthy and to be able to take care of themselves. We need to encourage them to be physically active, to go out for a walk each day, and to help them maintain their sense of autonomy and purpose. What that means is if they were running in their life before this pandemic, they should still be running until now. The worst thing you can do is try to take over because that's not going to go very well.

Caregiving during COVID-19: Resources

  • Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990

24/7, 365-day-a-year, national hotline dedicated to providing immediate crisis counseling for people experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster. This toll-free, multilingual, and confidential crisis support service is available to all residents in the United States and its territories. Stress, anxiety, and other depression-like symptoms are common reactions after a disaster.

The Disaster Distress Helpline also answers calls and texts related to infectious disease outbreaks (PDF | 545 KB), such as the Coronavirus pandemic, incidents of community unrest, and other traumatic events.

About Melissa

I earned my Bachelor of Science in Nursing (‘96) and Master of Science in Nursing (‘00) as a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) from the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) School of Nursing (SON). I truly enjoy working with the complex medical needs of older adults. I worked full-time for five years as FNP in geriatric primary care across many long-term care settings (skilled nursing homes, assisted living, home, and office visits) then transitioned into academic nursing in 2005, joining the faculty at UNCW SON as a lecturer. I obtained my Ph.D. in Nursing and a post-Master’s Certificate in Nursing Education from the Medical University of South Carolina College of Nursing (’11) and then joined the faculty at Duke University School of Nursing as an Assistant Professor. My family moved to northern Virginia in 2015 and led to me joining the faculty at George Washington University (GW) School of Nursing in 2018 as a (tenured) Associate Professor where I am also the Director of the GW Center for Aging, Health, and Humanities. Find out more about her work at