Keeping The Elderly Protected During Winter
It’s been two years since the coronavirus disease (COVID) was first detected in the United States, and problems with COVID aren’t going to go away anytime soon. That’s why health care professionals and senior care experts are encouraging others to help the elderly survive a second COVID winter.
It’s unfortunate that COVID is still in the picture, but “we need to be vigilant, we can’t let our guard down,” said Betty Duncan, geriatric care manager for Hartford HealthCare Center for Healthy Aging in Hartford, Connecticut. “I know everyone’s tired, but please don’t.”
There are many ways to help protect pandemic-weary seniors this winter, and Duncan recommends:
1. Keep washing your hands
Regular handwashing with soap and water is one of the best ways to remove germs and avoid getting sick, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Germs on our hands are easily transferred to our face when we touch our eyes, nose, and mouth. Once inside the body, germs can cause such problems as diarrhea, skin infections, and eye infections.
What’s more, germs from unwashed hands can be transferred onto handrails, doorknobs, tabletops, and other objects and then transferred on to the hands of those who touch these objects and cause them to get sick.
2. Get vaccinated and boosted
Adults are encouraged to get vaccinated against COVID and a booster shot which provides another layer of protection against the disease. The CDC recommends everyone 12 years old and older get a Pfizer or Moderna booster at least five months after receiving the initial two doses of the vaccine.
Older adults may have poor outcomes if they develop the coronavirus disease because studies show the risk for severe illness from COVID increases with age. The CDC reports that older adults who are not vaccinated and develop COVID are more likely to be hospitalized, placed in intensive care, or on a ventilator to help them breathe, or they might even die.
3. Wear a mask
“We need to wear our masks diligently,” Duncan stressed.
Health officials are urging people to upgrade their masks because cloth masks do not provide as much protection against the highly infectious Omicron COVID-19 variant. The CDC recently recommended upgrading to N95 masks, specifically those approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), as well as KN95 masks. Both N95 and KN95 filter more airborne particles than cloth masks.
4. Stay home
Duncan suggests staying home if you do not feel well, and that goes for adult children who want to visit their elderly loved ones.
“Don’t visit your loved one that day, get a (COVID) test instead,” Duncan said.
Watch For Anxiety And Depression Among The Elderly
With cold, snowy, and dark days, the winter season makes it hard for seniors to get to the grocery store, go to doctor’s appointments, or visit friends and relatives.
As a result, many seniors remain socially isolated and lonely during the winter months, especially if they do not have adult children or friends living nearby to visit them. So, it’s no surprise that seniors suffer from depression and anxiety during this time.
The CDC reports that less than 1 percent to about 5 percent of older adults suffer from depression, and those figures rise to 11.5 percent for seniors in hospitals, and 13.5 percent for those who require home healthcare.
Signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety include:
- Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and/or helplessness
- Irritability, restlessness
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable
- Fatigue and decreased energy
- Increased heart rate
- Racing thoughts
- Insomnia, early–morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
- Overeating or appetite loss
- Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
Duncan advises family members to look for signs of depression and anxiety in their loved ones.
“If you ask your loved ones how they feel, they may just say ‘I don’t feel good,’ but not have any particular complaints,” Duncan explains. “You may call them every day or every morning and they answer and sound cheerful, but now they’re only answering two times a week. Why is that? Don’t just ask them how they are, ask them how are they spending their day.”
Duncan also suggests asking loved ones if they need help with anything. “There are tons of resources out there and they shouldn’t feel alone.”
Ways to Safely Combat Depression and Anxiety
It’s possible for seniors to overcome depression, but they will need some help. However, it’s hard for older adults suffering from depression to seek help, especially when they already feel isolated and lonely. So, it’s important that family or friends support them in getting the help they need.
Antidepressant medication and counseling are common treatments for depression. Besides these two treatments, Duncan recommends eating a healthy, balanced diet, drinking lots of water, and trying to stay active.
Taking vitamin D as a supplement also helps, especially in the winter when days are shorter and there is not a lot of sun. Duncan advises seniors to talk with their healthcare providers first before taking any supplements.
Other available resources include:
Hartford HealthCare Center for Healthy Aging: 1-877-424-4641
Veteran Crisis Line and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Dial 211 for essential community services