Keeping elderly relatives safe for the holidays

Waving at grandchildren through glass (Cleveland Clinic News Service)

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, many families are trying to figure out how to celebrate safely in the midst of the pandemic and keep older relatives physically, but not socially, distant.

Kenneth Koncilja, a geriatrics specialist at Cleveland Clinic, said it’s a tough call as to whether elderly loved ones should stay home this year.

“Patients who have cognitive impairment or dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, history of strokes, often rely on socialization to help preserve their function or their memory, and so not being around people, being isolated, can also lead to worse health outcomes for some people," Koncilja said.

For months, COVID-19 has forced many of us to keep our distance from the elderly, as older people are at higher risk and have higher mortality rates from COVID-19. That leaves many families wondering how to keep elderly relatives safe, without depriving them of time to socialize.

Koncilja said if an older person does decide to come over for a family gathering, you should make sure everyone is wearing a mask and social distancing. For example, don’t seat as many people in one room, or at the same table. And always remember to sanitize or wash your hands.

“Handwashing is a very vital part of our defense for protecting us and for protecting vulnerable older adults and small children from respiratory viruses, so don’t forget hand washing amidst everything else,” Koncilja said.

If your relatives don’t feel comfortable coming over, there are still ways to connect with them. Koncilja said any kind of socialization can really make a difference, even a simple phone call or video chat can make loved ones feel like they’re part of the celebration.