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How to Support the Elderly and Vulnerable During the COVID-19 Pandemic

by Skye Sherman - May 19 , 2020


Photo Credit: Los Angeles County, flickr.com
Photo Credit: Los Angeles County, flickr.com

The whole world is feeling the pain of the COVID-19 pandemic, but none more so than the elderly. That’s mainly because, as STAT explains, the virus is more lethal to those who are older or those with compromised immune systems, and there’s no viable cure yet:

“Researchers on Monday announced the most comprehensive estimates to date of elderly people’s elevated risk of serious illness and death from the new coronavirus: Covid-19 kills an estimated 13.4% of patients 80 and older, compared to 1.25% of those in their 50s and 0.3% of those in their 40s. The sharpest divide came at age 70. Although 4% of patients in their 60s died, more than twice that, or 8.6%, of those in their 70s did … The new estimates come as scientists have been scrambling to figure out the underlying reasons for older people’s greater susceptibility to the virus — and, in particular, why some mount a stronger immune response than others.”

So what can we do to support the elderly and the vulnerable during this pandemic? In this article, we’ll explore the best ways you can do your part and how you can recommend seniors to take extra precautions, too.

Why are the Elderly at More Risk During the Pandemic?

Young people may not enjoy the need to stay home and self-quarantine -- nobody said this would be fun -- but imagine how much worse this situation likely feels for the elderly: not only are they more susceptible to complications from coronavirus, but they’re also breaking out of the social, physical, and mental health routines they’re used to.

Because the elderly tend to be retired and no longer working, they don’t even have the camaraderie of working from home or hopping onto regular conference calls while they self-isolate. Many seniors also live alone. This means loneliness is a major risk for the elderly, and it’s up to the rest of us to not only help to keep them safe, but also to do what we can to make them smile during this strange period of time.

According to The LA Times, “The United States is home to roughly 49 million people who are 65 years or older, including 5.3 million in California. Many are at risk for severe illness with COVID-19, meaning that they must be extra vigilant to prevent being exposed to the coronavirus. Their families and caregivers must also be especially careful.”

So how can you help? Keep reading.

Senior Care: Ways to Support the Elderly During Social Distancing

Wondering how to help? If you have an elderly person in your life, here are a few steps you should take:

* Ask them if they need anything. Listen to them and hear out their needs.

* Offer your assistance; perhaps you can pick up groceries, give them a box of toilet paper if they’re in short supply, or otherwise,

* Commit to helping them stave off loneliness by promising a regular call or FaceTime session.

* You should avoid contact if possible, because you don’t want to unintentionally spread the virus to them or put them at greater risk.

Still, there’s a lot you can do without making direct contact.

If you’re a senior citizen, you should:

* Exercise the same precautions as everyone else: stay home, avoid contact with others, practice social distancing, and wash your hands regularly.

* Don’t touch your face, and

* Don’t expose yourself to more people or places than you absolutely need to right now.

Instead, only go out for necessities like groceries, pharmaceuticals, and other items that you need to sustain life. If possible, so that you don’t have to go out in public yourself at this time. You can even get your prescription drugs shipped directly to your door.

For everyone else, The LA Times recommends regular communication and a readiness to help: “Regular communication with seniors — from a distance — is extremely important. Family and caregivers need to know what medications seniors are taking, and make sure they have an adequate supply of other essentials, such as food and cleaning supplies. … Numerous neighborhood groups and nonprofits are working to organize efforts for seniors, and deliver services and essential goods safely.”

That means taking time every day, or at least multiple times per week, to call an older person you know. Give them something to look forward to in your conversations, whether that means fun facts or simply sharing your love for them. Ask them about their lives and stories, too. Keeping in contact is especially important during this time, and you may find that it’s a unique opportunity to hear about their lives and decades of experience.

If they’re able, you can use Facetime, Skype, or Zoom to make video calls, which is more personal and lets them see your face -- almost as good as having an in-person conversation. Otherwise, you can stick to normal calls, drop by their house and stay outside or in the driveway, or even write letters of love and support. Maybe include news clippings, upbeat magazine articles, or other items you find interesting throughout the week.

Another minor step you can take that could help in a major way: if they live in the US, help them to secure their economic impact payment from the CARES Act. According to the IRS, “Distribution of economic impact payments will begin in the next three weeks and will be distributed automatically, with no action required for most people. However, some seniors and others who typically do not file returns will need to submit a simple tax return to receive the stimulus payment.”

The seniors in your life may not be aware of this economic relief option, or they may not realize that any action steps are required from them to receive it. Be proactive and offer your help and information so that they, too, can receive this payment that could make a major difference in their lives.

Now more than ever, practice the golden rule: treat others (especially seniors) the way you would want to be treated if you were in their position.

Protect Seniors by Staying Home and Slowing the Spread

Perhaps one of the main things you can do to protect the elderly and immunocompromised is to stay home and practice social distancing. By taking these steps, you help to slow the spread, which makes the impact easier to manage for hospitals and health care workers. In addition, you avoid spreading the virus to these demographics as much as possible. Reducing exposure keeps the pandemic at a manageable level as long as possible.

The UBC reminds people, “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.”

Physical distancing doesn’t have to mean social isolation. Take extra steps to reassure your loved ones and remind them that they are loved.

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DISCLAIMER

While the above article is based on thorough research, we do not claim to offer a substitute for medical advice from a qualified healthcare provider. We aim to provide helpful information to our readers, but cannot provide a treatment, diagnosis, or consultation of any sort, not even for pets, and we are in no way indicating that any particular drug is safe or appropriate for you and your individual needs. To receive professional medical attention, you must see a doctor.