What If Your Aging Parent Gets COVID-19?

Out of concern for your older family member, have you’ve been adamantly encouraging them to stay at home? Have you been buying their groceries and leaving them at their door step? Maybe you’ve been calling regularly to check up on them.

Up until now, all attention has been focused on how to avoid spreading COVID-19. 

If we want to minimize the harmful effects of this pandemic, however, we need to move beyond thinking how to protect our older generation from getting the coronavirus and start thinking about how to prepare for when they may get it.


Unnecessary pain and suffering, panic, and conflict result when we don’t know have a plan for crisis. Geriatric, hospice, and palliative care professionals can attest to that. If we, as a society, want to protect older adults in our communities, we need to start having the hard conversations. As adult children, we need to start having conversations about what our aging parents want in the event of a medical emergency, COVID-19 or not. These conversations mentally and emotionally prepare our parents and ourselves for this real danger. These conversations help reduce anxiety knowing we have a battle plan.


A hard question, but a real one. Would you feel confident making a decision for your parent if they had a medical emergency? If your parent was critically ill, do you know if they would want aggressive treatment? If you think they would want aggressive treatment that is meant to help prolong life, do you think they know and do you know what these various treatments entail? Along with the slew of difficult questions to answer, COVID-19 has added an additional layer of complication. If you parent got sent to the hospital after experiencing severe symptoms, you and your family members most likely wouldn’t be able to visit them.


When we wait until “the worst” happens to think about a plan, we set ourselves up for pain and chaos. When we discuss and document our loved ones wishes before crisis (also known as an “advance directive”), there are many benefits:


  • We have more time to think and talk through certain decisions with them. We know how to best respond in crisis.
  • Our parents have peace knowing they have communicated their wishes to us.
  • Both you and your parents have time to ask questions, research, and understand the benefits and burdens of certain medical treatments offered when certain crisis occurs.
  • As adult children, we gain a better understanding of our parent’s wishes and can confidently advocate for them if they are critically ill and unable to communicate for themselves.
  • We reduce family conflict and drama because our parent(s) has already expressed and documented their wishes.
  • We decrease the emotional burden placed on medical professionals to have to discuss or make life-altering decisions for our loved ones.
  • We leave more time for address other concerns with medical professionals.
  • We avoid having to second guess the decisions we make on our parent’s behalf.
  • We, as adult children, are at peace due to these preparations. 

Let’s use the time and space we currently have to have those hard, yet meaningful conversations. Let’s be ready to advocate for our parents if need be. And in every way, let’s continue to protect the older generation and honor them, even amidst crisis.  For right now, honor and care for your parents by encouraging them to stay at home. But don’t stop there. Care for them by starting a conversation.


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