Grounding your parents in the time of COVID-19

Adult children have started grounding their parents in an attempt to protect them from COVID-19—and it’s not easy.

First published on HerCanberra, 31 March 20

Some of us are new to caring for our older parents. We’re not at the point of making decisions for them—our older family members are independent grown adults, and they have their own minds. But COVID-19 has sped up the switch in caring roles.

And oh, how the tables have turned. We find ourselves parroting back the same orders that we got as teenagers.

“No, you can’t go and visit your friends.”

“I don’t want you hanging around at the shops.”

“It’s for your own good!”.

It’s not easy, but it’s much harder for carers who have to take matters into their own hands.

Rebecca Scouller cares for her elderly mother who suffers from dementia. This week, she made the difficult decision to withdraw her mum from social activities.

“Mum is part of a choir, which is an amazing outlet for her—she loves it,” says Rebecca. “I see her come to life and cry every time I watch her perform”.

“But it’s difficult when you have a lot of vulnerable people together in a room. If one person had the virus it would spread very quickly”.

Rebecca says it was a tough decision.

“Its really stressful because these activities are Mum’s primary social interaction during the week. I am her only immediate family in Canberra—and I work. Dad’s no longer around, so she doesn’t have anyone else to talk to at home.”

“You become the only source of interaction and engagement and you do feel a responsibility to make sure they are engaged and happy.

Rebecca is not only concerned about the social and emotional effects of isolation, but also the effects on mental health.

“Social interaction activates the brain. It encourages people with dementia to communicate and converse. That’s an important part of managing dementia. If you have less of those interactions, there’s a potential for deterioration”.

Rebecca understands this is an unprecedented crisis, and that it’s a logistical challenge for care organisations to offer face-to-face interaction, however, she’s hopeful that care organisations might instead phone their clients and have a chat with them instead. This would also allow carers a moment of respite.

“This might be the only time the carer has off,” she adds. “The mental health of the vulnerable person, as well as the carer, is going to be a key issue in the next couple of months”.

If you would like further information, the Department of Health has released a fact sheet on COVID-19 for older Australians and their carers.