The Elderly and Coronavirus: Getting Help and Staying Connected
The novel coronavirus has upended the lives of millions in the United States and around the world.
But the global pandemic has been especially devastating for seniors, one of the groups most vulnerable to COVID-19’s devastating effects, including severe respiratory failure, organ failure, and death.
It’s vitally important that older adults and their caregivers take precautions to stay safe during this unprecedented public health emergency. And in the absence of a vaccine or reliable cure, staying safe in the age of coronavirus means being conscientious about hand washing and personal hygiene, sheltering-in-place, and maintaining social distance from others.
But social distancing goes against everything geriatricians advocate for seniors – especially those who live alone. Under normal circumstances, older adults would be advised to remain engaged as much as possible to avoid the poor physical and mental outcomes that all too often accompany social isolation.
Fortunately, with a little creativity, it is possible to balance these competing recommendations during this extremely difficult time.
Look to Technology to Stay in Touch
Various online options — FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, among others Snapchat – exist to help families stay in touch while social distancing. What’s more, most are easy to use and don’t require a great deal of technological prowess.
If you need help getting started, ask a tech-savvy friend or relative to walk you through setting up an account over the phone. Once you’re online, try to schedule regular video calls with family and friends every week.
Get the Help You Need to Social Distance
Businesses and organizations across the country are providing extra help to seniors and other vulnerable people during the coronavirus crisis.
Many grocery stores, for example, are setting aside special shopping hours and offering free delivery for at-risk groups, including the elderly. Pharmacies have waved delivery fees and are providing one- or two-day deliveries of prescription drugs and other essentials during the pandemic.
Meals on Wheels has switched to no-contact delivery to ensure volunteers and those they serve to maintain appropriate social distance, and many medical practices – especially those focused on seniors — are now offering telehealth services so no one has to risk a trip to the doctor.
Stay Active in Your Community
While you can’t leave your home to volunteer at a food bank or hospital, there are other ways to stay actively engaged in your community while sheltering-in-place.
For example, many organizations — political parties, faith-based groups, nonprofits — are relying on home-based volunteers to make fundraising and advocacy phone calls on their behalf. And if you have the financial resources, local food banks and other charities need donations now more than ever.
Take a Break from the News
While it is important to stay informed, a constant stream of news will only increase your anxiety during this already anxious time. Instead, try watching a 30-minute update in the morning and another in the evening to keep abreast of current events without provoking needless worry.
Keep Yourself Busy
Because you have less time to worry when you’re busy, right now is a great time to learn a foreign language or try that new hobby you’ve always talked about.
Tackling spring cleaning and other tasks you’ve been putting off will give you a sense of accomplishment, while entertaining TV shows, movies, and books can provide a distraction from distressing current events.
Exercise and fresh air are effective antidotes for anxiety and stress. Most states’ stay-at-home orders allow for some time outdoors, so take a walk if you can, tend to your garden or yard, or just sit on your front porch. But remember to maintain social distancing and wear a mask if you’re going to be in contact with others.
Take Care of Yourself
Self-care can help take the edge off isolation, so get a good night’s sleep and try to maintain a regular wake-up time and bedtime. Eat healthily and continue to exercise in a way that’s appropriate for your age and abilities.
If you’re feeling especially stressed, deep breathing, light stretching, and meditation are great ways to relax. If you’re new to these strategies, there are plenty of downloadable apps available to help you get started.
Maintain Your Perspective
Research suggests feelings of gratitude can help ease anxiety and ward off depression, so make it a daily habit to jot down anything or anyone you’re grateful for, whether its first responders, family and friends, or having a roof over your head.
While it’s difficult to think this way, the current situation is temporary and the pandemic will end at some point. Attempting to predict the future and focusing on worst-case scenarios can trigger anxiety, so take it one day at a time and focus on those things you can control.