TORONTO -- The other day, Lynn Nicholls and her husband drove by her father-in-law’s house in Niagara Falls, Ont. to wave at him from their car. The friendly 85-year-old man lives alone in the city’s main tourist area and is used to shooting the breeze with passersby.

However, with physical distancing and quarantine measures now in full force, Nicholls said her father-in-law has been feeling the effects of isolation.

“He’s losing his mind. This man who’s just so sociable has gone cold turkey,” she told on Saturday. “It’s the loneliness. Nobody can visit him and that’s what he counted on.”

That is why, when Nicholls and her husband arrived at her father-in-law’s house, they found him returning from yet another drive. But that wasn’t all. They also noticed he was wearing a clear plastic salad bowl over his head as he got out of his truck.

“He said ‘This coronavirus, it can’t get through plastic,’” Nicholls recalled with a laugh. “He was driving around with this bowl on his head. He thinks he’s solved the mystery of how to protect yourself from coronavirus.”

While Nicholls and her husband were able to convince him the bowl was not adequate protection against the virus and to stop inviting visitors to his home, she said her own father has been wandering away from the retirement home where he lives and going out for aimless drives too.

“We had them [the home’s staff] have him hand over his keys. It’s like having an unruly teenager,” she said. “It’s like he’s grounded.”

Nicholls isn’t alone in her attempts to convince a family member to stay home during the pandemic, either.

Hilary Duffin and her family in Oshawa, Ont. have been trying for weeks to persuade her 88-year-old grandfather to stop running daily errands during the health crisis. She said they have been dropping off groceries at her grandparents’ house so he doesn’t have to leave.

“He’s pretty nonchalant,” Duffin said. “We have a pretty good sense of humour and so I threatened to deadlock his door on the outside so he wouldn't go out and he’s like ‘Yeah, OK, you do that.’ He’s just not serious about it.”

And it’s not only older generations that have been playing fast and loose with physical distancing rules.

Gary Direnfeld, a Keswick, Ont.-based social worker, said he’s received a lot of questions from parents seeking guidance on how they can convince their teenagers to stay home during the health emergency.

“It spans all ages,” he said. “I hear a lot about teenagers, but it’s also 30-somethings, my generation or the boomer generation, and even some of the elderly.”

Direnfeld said there could be a number of reasons why some people are still having trouble taking the pandemic seriously. For instance, he said they may think they’re immune, they feel invincible, or they just don’t believe the scientific facts they’re hearing about it.

Dr. Nathan Stall, a geriatrician at Sinai Health System (SHS) in Toronto, said there could also be financial reasons for why some people are still eschewing the rules: so they can make ends meet during these difficult economic times.

Additionally, he said some people may become more lax with their adherence to physical distancing guidelines because they’re fatigued with isolation.

“I worry that people are actually, as we approach the second month of this is a country, that people are experiencing fatigue. It’s not easy,” he said. “This is not a trivial thing. There are substantial mental health consequences that are evolving.”

That’s one of the reasons why Lori Ciaralli suspects her sociable parents, who are in their late seventies, are still allowing visitors to come inside their home in Laval, Que. to pick up face masks her mother has sewn or why they’re still dropping off baked goods at their friends’ homes.

“They go to this senior centre where they play cards, they dance, they have meals, they have fitness classes, and they don’t have the technology that the rest of us have… so for them, this step down to where we are, it’s huge,” she explained.

How to convince loved ones to stay home

While Nicholls resorted to taking her father and her father-in-law’s car keys to keep them home, and Duffin jokingly threatened to deadbolt the front door of her grandfather’s house, there are a number of other strategies people can employ to reason with their loved one during the pandemic.

Discuss from a place of curiosity

Social worker Gary Direnfeld encouraged anyone who is concerned about a loved one’s adherence to quarantine measures to approach them from a place of curiosity instead of bombarding them with facts.

“Throwing more facts at them doesn’t necessarily help them change their point of view,” he said. “A lot of arguments ensue between people and they have a facts war.”

Instead, Direnfeld said people can try asking them questions about how they would feel in certain plausible scenarios that could come to pass if they continue what they’re doing.

“Do you think, given my concerns, I should let you back in the house? What would you do if I were to die?” he posed as examples. “What if you were to get grandma or grandpa sick and they died? How would you live with that? Or what if you were to die and your grandkids never got to see you again? Would that be OK?”

Direnfeld said the aim is to have them problem solve in these “what if” scenarios so they will come to reflect differently on their current situation and the possible repercussions of their actions.

“We want to make it very personal without attacking the person,” he said.

It’s a strategy that worked for Yvonne Ziomecki, the executive vice president of marketing and sales for HomeEquity Bank, who was able to convince her parents to stay home by invoking their grandchildren.

“The thing that was most effective was [telling them] ‘We want you around for us and we want you around for your grandchildren. We want your grandchildren to have you for as long as possible,’” she told during a telephone interview from her home in Toronto on Thursday.

Duffin, too, told her grandparents that her summer wedding had been postponed and that she wanted them to take physical distancing seriously so they could be around for that day when it arrives.

‘Reach in’

As people isolate themselves at home and rely on technology for communication, Dr. Nathan Stall said there will be a serious social recession as a result of this new reality.

“Particularly for older adults who we know are some of the age groups with the highest risk for loneliness and isolation,” he said. “These are profoundly difficult times for them because social interaction and connectivity at the best of times can be difficult.”

To lessen the effects of this isolation, Stall said it’s more important than ever for people to leverage technology in order to stay connected to their loved ones.

Even if it’s as simple as a daily phone call, Direnfeld said people should make an effort to “reach in” and contact those who are particularly isolated and who may not reach out to others on their own behalf.

“Reach in to those persons, phone them regularly so that you can help stave off their sense of isolation,” he advised. “I speak with my own mother once or twice a day. She's 95. She, in turn, speaks with several of her friends daily to check in on each other, they connect, they reach in.”

For Ziomecki, part of reaching in to her parents involved asking them about their lives and how they can make their quarantine at home more enjoyable.

“What do you need? What can somebody get you? You know, let’s teach you this. Here's a show you could watch, you really like British shows, here’s a British show you could watch,” she said.

Understand the limits of our influence

As much as people can try to reason with their loved ones, Direnfeld said there will be cases when an individual just won’t listen. In those circumstances, he said it’s important for people to understand the limits of their own influence and to consider what they’re willing to do in terms of setting boundaries instead.

For example, he said a parent could prevent their teenager from living under the same roof as others in the household if their actions put others at risk for infection; however, they would also have to figure out an alternative arrangement for where that child could safely stay instead.

“We can’t control everyone,” Direnfeld said. “So that’s why we’re encouraging all people to have these difficult conversations with those who continue to place themselves or others at risk.”

Keep the pedal on the metal

Finally, although it may seem like their loved one is not listening, Direnfeld encouraged people to continue having these conversations, difficult as they may be, until they can figure out an arrangement that works for everyone.

“There’s no one solution or a series of solutions that will deal with all these problems,” he said.

Stall agrees and urged people to “keep the pedal to the metal” and to continue to remind their loved ones about the importance of physical distancing measures.

“I think it’s just so important to remind ourselves that we're not only doing this for ourselves, but we're primarily doing this for the more vulnerable in our society,” he said. “There’s this overused, but apt phrase that says ‘a society is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable.’”