Helping Seniors Cope with COVID-19
March 31, 2020 | by Hannah Turk and the National Care Planning Council
Right now, several states are encouraging, and even mandating, self-isolation and quarantine due to the spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019, or COVID-19. COVID-19 is a virus identified as the cause of a respiratory illness outbreak first identified in China. COVID-19 was detected in November, 2019 and has gone on to affect more than 450,000 people in over 150 countries in the world.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic. While many media sources have reported most people infected will recover from the virus older adults, primarily the elderly, have been found to be more susceptible to the virus and will experience more serious symptoms or even death. 9.8% of infected individuals between the ages of 70-79 have died due to COVID-19. Age 80 and beyond, fatalities jump to 18% (medRxiv).
This may leave you wondering what you should be doing to protect the seniors in your life and help them cope with being "high risk". Don't panic. With a few alterations to regular routines, protecting seniors and the elderly can be manageable.
WHY ARE WE "SOCIAL DISTANCING"?
With the rapid spread of Covid-19, the method of social distancing has been implemented to slow transmission of the virus. By limiting social interaction, we can reduce the speed and likelihood of virus transmission. If we are spending less time with people and places where the virus may be, we can dramatically decrease our chances of getting sick. Frequent hand-washing and use of hand sanitizers will also reduce coronavirus risk.
WHY ARE SENIORS MORE SUSCEPTIBLE?
Decreased immune functions play a big role in why seniors are seriously affected by this virus. As we age, our immune systems slowly diminish. With weaker immune function, it becomes more difficult to fight off illness. In combination with decreased immunity, elderly people tend to have a higher prevalence of chronic diseases (another factor that causes "high risk"). Chronic diseases that affect immune function include cardiovascular disease, lung disease, COPD, hypertension, diabetes, and cancer. There are also social factors that contribute to the susceptibility of the elderly. Living in care facilities where people congregate increase their chances of exposure. Another social factor includes in-home visitors not following social distancing and hygiene guidelines.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Since COVID-19 is one of many respiratory viruses it may be hard to determine whether you or someone you know has COVID-19 or a similar ailment like the flu or the common cold. There are some defining factors that set the virus apart. Symptoms associated with COVID-19 include fever, dry cough, shortness of breath, and in some cases diarrhea. If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms contact your care provider. They may recommend being tested. It is important to always follow the instructions of your doctor.
HOW TO HELP THE ELDERLY SOCIAL DISTANCE?
Keeping your loved ones socially distanced will help protect them from the dangers of COVID-19. If they are housebound, offer to run errands for them. Grocery stores are high trafficked businesses and can pose a great health risk to those more susceptible to the effects of the virus. Picking up prescriptions and other items will also decrease their chances of being exposed. Take great care when dropping off items, remember to keep your hands washed and sanitized. If possible, drop off items without coming into direct contact with the person you are helping.
For those at home and in care facilities social distancing can affect their mental health. It is important to try to maintain a routine and fill their days with enrichment activities. Encourage them to keep a routine they can maintain each day. A helpful routine can include waking up at a reasonable hour, performing hygiene activities, meditating, etc. Make sure they are staying hydrated and eating well. Often in times of stress we can over-eat or forget meals.
Keeping in touch with your loved ones is a great way to help them through this difficult time. Write them letters. Send fun emails. Phone calls will help keep their social needs met and maintain an up-to-date knowledge of their current condition. Take these opportunities to ask questions about their life and their hobbies. This can be the perfect chance to learn more about your loved ones and create a stronger relationship.
Engage them in repetitive movement activities. Examples of this kind of enrichment include knitting, coloring, painting, puzzle solving, etc. Repetition is known for aiding in stress management during times of distress. By making these simple changes you can help keep the seniors in your life safe and happy during this pandemic.
The Coronavirus outbreak is a global challenge. It requires preventive actions and vigilance. Maintaining health through social distancing, good hygiene, and other safe practices are the best way to combat the disease. Remember, social distancing does not mean social isolation. Even a potentially deadly virus should not force us to be alone. Now, more than ever, we can find smart ways to stay connected.