Caring for Seniors During COVID-19
While no one is immune from COVID-19, it’s become distressingly obvious that seniors are particularly vulnerable to the novel coronavirus.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), people 60 and older are among those most likely to experience severe and potentially deadly complications – including respiratory distress and organ failure – should they become infected with COVID-19. The danger only increases when an older adult suffers from preexisting medical problems, especially heart disease, lung disease, diabetes or cancer.
If you’re caring for an older family member, you’re probably feeling overwhelmed with worry.
But by taking a few common-sense precautions and following some simple guidelines, you can greatly increase the odds that your elderly loved one will remain safe and healthy during this unprecedented public health crisis.
Practice Good Personal Hygiene
Good personal hygiene habits are the first line of defense against COVID-19, as well as colds, flu and other contagious illness. To lessen the chance of getting sick, you and your loved one should:
- Wash hands frequently. Use soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after providing care, preparing food, using the bathroom, or touching surfaces in public places.
- Sneeze and cough into a tissue or the bend of your elbow.
- Keep your hands away from your face.
- Clean frequently touched surfaces often, including mobility and medical equipment used by your loved one, such as walkers, canes and handrails.
Stock Up on Essentials
To avoid unnecessary shopping trips, the CDC is recommending everyone stock up on essentials during the pandemic:
- Get prescriptions refilled early if possible and make sure your elderly loved one has a ready supply of any over-the-counter medications they might need. If other needs arise, many pharmacies are offering free delivery services for the duration of the outbreak.
- Keep a 14-day supply of food on hand. Focus on nutritious foods that keep well and are easy to prepare, especially canned soups, fruits and vegetables; dried beans, pasta and rice; frozen vegetables; peanut butter and jelly; and shelf-stable milk.
- Make sure your loved one has an adequate supply of toilet paper, hand soap, and household cleaners.
- Wear a mask and maintain social distance when you do head to the grocery store, or consider using Instacart or similar delivery services.
Practice Social Distancing. Avoid Social Isolation.
Millions of Americans have been ordered to stay at home and curtail non-essential travel to help slow the transmission of COVID-19. Even in states where lockdowns are easing, the elderly and those with chronic conditions are being encouraged to continue most social distancing practices.
But doing so can be difficult for seniors, especially if they were already struggling with the adverse effects of social isolation. To make your you elderly loved one stays connected from home:
- Teach them how to use FaceTime, Zoom, or similar apps and schedule regular video chats with friends and family.
- Encourage absent friends and family to telephone regularly, write notes, and send cards to lift their spirits.
Keep Seniors Involved and Busy
Your elderly loved one doesn’t have to withdraw from life just because they’re stuck at home.
- The lockdown is the perfect time to start that new hobby they’ve long talked about or handle tasks they’ve been putting off.
- If they belong to a religious congregation, see if online services are available.
- Suggest they participate in any virtual programs – online book clubs, museum tours, senior fitness classes – being offered by their local community center or library.
- Keep your loved one entertained by signing up for Netflix or other streaming services.
- Encourage your family member to stay informed of current events, but limit TV news to an hour a day to avoid unnecessary anxiety.
Minimize Opportunities for Infection
Staying at home and avoiding physical contact with others is the best way to minimize the risk of infection.
- Enlist family and friends to run occasional errands, but ask that they leave any purchases at the front door.
- Shop online and take advantage of the free delivery and curbside pickup services now being offered by many stores.
- Postpone unnecessary doctors’ appointments or ask about available telemedicine services. If your elderly loved one must be seen in person, make sure they wear a mask and follow all necessary social distancing protocols.
- Staying at home doesn’t mean staying inside. Encourage your elderly loved one to get some fresh air — taking a brief walk (if they’re able), spending time in the yard, or sitting on their porch/deck — whenever the weather permits.
Know the Signs and Symptoms COVID-19
Contact your elderly loved one’s doctor if they develop any symptoms of COVID-19, including:
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle pain
- Sore throat
- New loss of taste or smell
Call 911 if they experience any signs of severe infection, including:
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion
- Inability to wake or stay awake
- Bluish lips or face
While the above symptoms do require immediate attention, do not head to the emergency room on your own. Inform the dispatcher that you’re seeking care for someone who may have COVID-19 and follow their instructions.