12 May 2020 Latest Advice for Protecting Seniors from COVID-19
In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis it is important to protect our beloved seniors, who are among the most vulnerable to the coronavirus infection. As a caregiver, there are steps you can take to help assure the safety of our elders.
I have covered this topic in the past, but several health organizations and senior advocacy groups have published additional information over the past few months. Many of the suggestions I will discuss for the elder population are also applicable to their caregivers and other family members.
The John Hopkins Medicine website had a recent article posted, “Coronavirus and COVID-19: Caregiving for the Elderly.” The article covered included some very useful information that I have summarized below.
Stay Well Yourself
If you are a senior caregiver, it is important that you stay healthy – if you are sick, you cannot take care of an elder loved one. With the corona virus all round us, you have to follow the standard basic procedures to minimize the risk of a COVID-19 infection: frequent hand washing with soap and water, crowd avoidance, social distancing, avoiding touching your face except after careful hand washing and cleaning commonly touched surfaces in and around your home. If you have a senior living with you, make sure that you carefully clean any mobility and medical equipment used by your loved one, including walkers, canes, handrails and grab bars.
Social Distancing Does Not Mean Social Isolation
To minimize the risk of an elder catching the COVID-19 virus from another person, it is important that they minimize close contact with other people. This includes direct contact with friends and family and no direct participation in religious meetings, such as church services, and group social activities. Of course, essential meetings with medical professional and others cannot be completely cut off, but they should take place only when remote meetings via telehealth (telemedicine) and video conferencing are not viable.
Help your older loved ones to master the technologies (applications and platforms such as smartphones and tablets) that enable communicating with family and friends via video conferencing apps and voice assisted programs. For the hearing impaired utilize captions on applications, when available.
Encourage your senior loved ones to chat with passersby when they are outdoors (at a safe distance, of course) getting the mail or with their neighbor on the other side of the fence. For older people who are active in a faith community, help them access online religious services, which are now being offered by many houses of worship.
Remember that social isolation can negatively affect a senior’s mental and physical health (including the immune system), so make sure that a physically isolated senior remains socially connected to others.
Take Advantage of Delivery Services
With restaurants in many parts of the country shut down except for pickups and delivery, take advantage of the delivery option and have food brought to your sheltered senior. Do the same with prescriptions and essential products from pharmacies and food from grocery stores. Often these types of deliveries are free or available for a nominal charge.
Minimize Travel for Seniors
Elders should put off non-essential travel, particularly cruises or trips with itineraries that would expose them to crowds.
Formulate a “What If” plan
You and your senior love ones should have a plan of what to do if they or you become sick. Having such a plan will reduce yours and their stress if illness strikes.
Have an emergency contact to take over for you (preferably someone nearby) in caring for your senior if you become sick. Stock up on essentials such as medications (three months -prescription and over the counter), food (two weeks – stock up, don’t hoard), pet supplies, cleaning supplies and personal hygiene items. Use delivery if available. Have someone on-call to take care of pets if you or your senior loved one becomes ill.
What About Assisted Living Facilities?
If you have a senior who currently resides or is about to reside in an assisted living facility such as a nursing home you probably have concerns about COVID-19 contagion in these types of facilities.
According to the CDC, “Given their congregate nature and population served, assisted living facilities (ALFs) are at high risk of COVID-19 spreading and affecting their residents. If infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, assisted living residents—often older adults with underlying chronic medical conditions—are at increased risk of serious illness. Recent experience with outbreaks in nursing homes has also reinforced that residents with COVID-19 may not report typical symptoms such as fever or respiratory symptoms; some may not report any symptoms. Unrecognized asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic infections likely contribute to transmission in these settings.”
Since the care provided in ALFs can vary greatly by the extent and type of supervision and provision of skilled nursing services, caregivers must be diligent to investigating any ALF in which a senior loved one is living or may be living in the near future. Many ALFs will not have access to an Infection Preventionist or professional nursing staff that can assist with COVID-19 preparation, prevention, and control efforts.
Overall Stress Management
Stress management applies to both caregivers and seniors and is particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic. Signs of excessive stress in seniors and others include poor sleeping, focusing on bad news (which, unfortunately, dominates the airwaves and social media nowadays), loss of interest in and connection to family and friends, an anxiety level that interferes with normal activities and, in the most severe cases, thoughts of suicide.
You and your loved ones should limit the amount of time you spend watching, reading, or listening to news stories and social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting. All of us should unwind and participate in activities we enjoy by ourselves – examples include hobbies, cooking, reading, sewing and solving puzzles (which is also beneficial for keeping a senior’s mind sharp).
Encourage and help seniors to eat healthy meals, exercise to the best of their abilities, get a good night’s sleep and not to overdo alcoholic beverages (not surprisingly alcohol consumption is up during the corona virus crisis). Seniors should connect with family and friends often and discuss how they feel with them.
Finally, have a positive attitude and help your elders to do so. It has become a cliché but we will get through this very unsettling period in our lives. What you do now will help your senior loved ones ‘weather the storm’ until life begins to return to normal or, at least, a ‘new’ normal.
Most importantly – stay well!