How to talk to seniors about the seriousness of COVID-19

There’s no doubt that this is tricky territory, but you want to avoid some common problems. Here are some tips on making sure the conversation goes as smoothly as possible, with suggestions for how you might make at least some progress:

Avoid exaggeration and temper your tone 

Always keep a measured, calm tone. If you find yourself getting agitated, come back to the subject later. Bear in mind that you yourself are under stress these days, as well. Don't make any exaggerations about anything, of course. Instead, focus on well-sourced information.

Focus on your objective concern

  • Focus on your own concerns as much as you can. Make sure they understand how you feel
  • Don't get personal in comments you make about how they are "handling the situation." Everyone is entitled to react on their own terms, especially people in their 70's, 80's and 90's.
  • Don't make assumptions. Ask questions, instead.

Don’t make statements when a question is more effective 

If people are resolute, they will resist being told what to do. However, if you ask probing questions, it can give them pause to think about things from other perspectives. This can open up space to explore reasonable compromises together.

Remind them of responsibility to other people

Remind them that if they catch the virus, they can spread it to every other friend and senior they come into contact with, including people who are more vulnerable than they are. Put it simply and focus on practical matters.

Here's the essence: there are a limited number of health professionals, and once the health care system is overwhelmed, fatalities will rise unnecessarily. Fatalities will rise not only from the virus, but for other health care problems, as well, from heart attacks to strokes to car accidents.

If they focus on issues like inconvenience, remind them of the inconvenience they'll face if they are hospitalized or worse.

And sometimes, you won't be able to convince them. Know when to drop the subject, but even then ...

Leave them with something to think about

Find out where they're getting their information then use it in your (and their) favour. The National Post is one source that is trusted by many older Canadians. And for example, they offer this advice on how seniors can make their own lives easier .

Find one strong, effective testimonial online in video or article format, then ask them to “just watch this.” There are plenty of personal videos from coronavirus patients on YouTube. Not all of them have the right tone, so take a while to look around for one with an appeal that might affect your loved one. Some suggestions we found are:

​You're not alone! Persist! 

Mark Konkol, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist (an “anti-establishment, politically independent smarty pants,” according to his Republican mother), has written a funny, touching discussion of his confrontation with his stubbornly optimistic parents. Perhaps some can sympathize with his predicament and learn from his humorous, personal take on his own generational divide.  (We hope it ends well for Mark and his family.) 

More tales from the generation gap:

‘Where do you think you’re going?’ Coronavirus is making millennials fearful for our parents. Josephine Tovey

"Convincing Boomer Parents to Take Coronavirus Seriously." The New Yorker.

"How Millennials are Talking About Coronavirus with Boomer Relatives."

Sources and further reading

"How to Talk to Older Adults Who Aren't Taking Coronavirus Seriously". CNBC.

"How To Talk To Your Stubborn Parents About Coronavirus Precaution." Mark Konkel.

“Do this for me”: How to convince older loved ones to socially distance.

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