How to support seniors during the COVID-19 outbreak

Amidst the uncertainty associated with the COVID-19 outbreak, keeping ourselves and our families safe and healthy is top of mind. This is particularly relevant when it comes to older adults in our communities.

People over the age of 65 who contract the virus are at increased risk, especially those with longstanding health conditions. Dr. Roger Wong, a clinical professor in geriatric medicine at UBC’s faculty of medicine, answers some common questions about seniors and COVID-19 and offers steps you can take to help keep your older loved ones safe and supported.

Why are seniors more vulnerable when it comes to COVID-19?

Seniors are more vulnerable to developing infections, including COVID-19. This is in part due to the fact that our immune systems slow down as we age. Many seniors also live with longstanding health conditions that may increase their risk of getting very sick from this illness.

What are some steps seniors can take to protect themselves?

There are many steps seniors can take to protect themselves from picking up any infection, including COVID-19. Like all of us, seniors should be regularly washing their hands, practising good personal hygiene, and making sure that they stay at home as much as possible to keep their physical distance from other people. To practice physical distancing, seniors should consider picking up their groceries once weekly and at off peak hours or ordering them online. Some grocery stores and pharmacies are offering seniors-only hours.

If seniors need to pick up medications, they should call their pharmacy first before going in. The Canadian Pharmacists Association also recommends individuals only get the medications they need. If possible, seniors should look to have a healthy family member pick up their medication and drop it off at their door, or order their medication from a pharmacy that offers delivery.

What are steps that others can take to protect and support seniors?

Remember that it’s possible to inadvertently pass the infection to seniors. It is best to visit them virtually rather than in person during the outbreak. If it is essential for you to visit, make sure that you are washing your hands and, if you feel even slightly unwell, do not visit your aging loved ones at this time. Think about how you can best support seniors in your life by running errands or bringing them necessities.

For seniors who have special needs, such as those living with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, it is difficult because they may not fully appreciate the impact or the extent of COVID-19. It’s important to keep the message simple. Family members can tell them, “There’s an infection in our community and we want to protect you.”

Explain that family members will contact them using technology and reassure them that they are safe and loved.

How do seniors contract COVID-19?

Like all of us, seniors may contract COVID-19 through a variety of ways. For seniors who are mobile, they may pick it up when they go out to public places or when they meet up with people in their community. Loved ones may also pass on the infection when they visit.

Remember: even people who may not have symptoms can spread the infection, inadvertently impacting seniors.

I’m not able to visit my aging loved one. What are other ways I can support them?

For those of us who have an aging loved one, whether they’re in a care home or living independently, there are many options to stay connected. Use technology, whether it is Skype or FaceTime to interact. Remember, physical distancing (that is, keeping physical distance between people) does not mean social isolation. It is so important to keep seniors engaged. A lot of times, a phone call is what is needed. Social isolation and loneliness can have negative impacts on seniors’ health. We all need to make sure we keep seniors mentally engaged while physically keeping them protected from the infection.

Should seniors cancel medical appointments?

Seniors should check with their health care provider to determine if their appointment can be re-scheduled or done virtually via technology.

Should seniors babysit their grandkids?

Seniors play an important role supporting families, however at this time, the health and safety of everyone is most important. Although these are challenging times, seniors should consider limiting their time babysitting during the outbreak because children may not have symptoms and could still spread the disease.

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Published: March 27, 2020