7 Coronavirus Safety Tips For Seniors, Caregivers, And Families

March 24, 2020

Coronavirus blood lab test

The World Health Organization has designed the novel coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic, and confirmed cases in the United States are mounting.  Public health experts urge everyone to practice “social distancing” in public.  Many states have already issued “Shelter-in-Place” advisories. Anyone who may have been exposed or who is particularly vulnerable is urged to call their doctor and request a test for the Coronavirus.

Families have a lot of questions and worries about how that advice affects their families, senior relatives, and other caregivers. Is it safe to visit your grandparents? What if the home health care aide can’t visit? How can you get needed medicines, food, and supplies to senior relatives and friends?

Here are some tips to help you support your family and keep everyone safe and healthy.

1. Take it Seriously. Coronavirus Isn’t “Just” the Flu

Like the regular flu, COVID-19 is more dangerous to seniors than for younger people, but senior mortality is much higher with COVID-19. Business Insider published this chart that compares the two viruses and highlights the danger to seniors:

Researchers don’t yet know exactly why the COVID-19 virus is so much more deadly for seniors than other virus strains, but it is. All older people are more susceptible to a variety of infections because our immune system functions decline as we age. Learn more about why coronavirus is more serious in older people.

2. Wash Your Hands, Then Wash Them Again

Washing hands under kitchen sink faucet

Hand sanitizer and most household cleaning supplies is in short supply.  Hopefully, that’s temporary, because it’s an important hygiene item when you don’t have access to soap and water. It’s also the preferred method inside health care facilities. For people self-isolating at home, however, plain liquid hand soap is just as effective.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers these tips for hand washing:

  1. Wet your hands with warm water. Use liquid soap if possible. Apply a nickel- or quarter-sized amount of soap to your hands.
  2. Rub your hands together until the soap forms a lather and then rub all over the top of your hands, in between your fingers and the area around and under the fingernails.
  3. Continue rubbing your hands for at least 15 seconds. Need a timer? Imagine singing the “Happy Birthday” song twice.
  4. Rinse your hands well under running water.
  5. In public settings, dry your hands using a paper towel if possible. Then use your paper towel to turn off the faucet and to open the door if needed.

Hand soap is less expensive than sanitizer.  By using soap at home, you help reduce the overwhelming demand right now for sanitizer in health care and senior facilities.

3. Use Grocery and Restaurant Delivery if Available

Encourage your senior relatives to have groceries delivered instead of going out in public to shop. Restaurant delivery services are also an option, but more expensive than preparing food at home.

Of course, many small towns and rural areas don’t have access to home delivery from local stores. Residents do have some options though:

  • Ask friends and family members to drop off hot meals or prepared meals for reheating.
  • Order non-perishable items from online retailers, but be prepared to substitute. Amazon has warned of shipment delays due to shortages.
  • Subscribe to a meal delivery service that delivers prepared meals (not meal kits). Some examples include Freshly, Fresh N Lean, and Magic Kitchen.

4. Investigate Telemedicine for Medical Appointments

If you’re over 60 and not sick, try to avoid areas frequented by sick people – like the doctor’s office or hospital!

Many health insurance companies are waiving co-payments or fees for telemedicine visits and expanding their nurse/provider telephone hotlines to reduce the number of in-person visits required for care. Contact your insurance provider to learn more.

5. Plan Ahead: Talk with Your Home Health Care Provider

There’s already a nationwide shortage of home health aides, so if many become ill or have to stay home to care for children who are out of school, it could be difficult for the agency to send a replacement.  What happens then if you or your relative can’t receive needed home care?

  • Make sure home health aides have been instructed in hygiene, including hand washing, masks, etc.
  • Talk with your provider about contingency plans in case caregivers become ill or have to self-quarantine.
  • Brainstorm alternate ways to provide care and assistance – like meal deliveries, daily phone calls, a home medical life alert system, help from neighbors, etc.

6. Find Ways to Minimize Social Isolation

Elderly woman video chatting on her tablet

Most seniors eagerly anticipate visits from friends and family members – particularly grandchildren – but now in-person contact isn’t a good idea. COVID-19 infections in children are usually mild; they can transmit the virus without showing many symptoms.

Lack of personal contact, however, also carries a risk. Feelings of depression and social isolation affect health and well-being.  Look for alternate ways to stay in touch without actually touching:

  • Regular phone calls – Check in at least once a day.
  • Family conference calls – Connect multiple family members for a group conversation. If your phone doesn’t have conference calling, use a free conference call service.
  • Online Chats – Use apps like Facetime and Skype for some virtual face-to-face time. Schedule it during a family meal or special occasion so the isolated relative feels like she’s a part of the fun.
  • Virtual religious services – For many people, regular attendance at religious services is important to them both spiritually and socially. Many congregations already offer live-streaming of worship services.

7. Stay Physically Active

Exercise boosts overall health, including immune functions, but gyms and exercise classes offer many opportunities to spread the virus.  While fitness centers are taking precautions, seniors and immunocompromised people should stay away for now.

Fortunately, you can stay active without going to a gym:

  • Walk around your house, front or backyard, or a treadmill if you have one.
  • Look for online yoga or workout classes. You can find classes for every age and skill level.
  • Get an exercise mat, hand weights, and/or resistance bands and do basic calisthenics at home.

Caution: many people enjoy the stair climber equipment at the gym, but real stairs aren’t a good substitute for most seniors.  Falls can be deadly for older people, and a lot of them happen on stairs.

Finally, let’s stress this again. Please take this situation seriously!

Currently, the United States has about 924,000 hospital beds in the country, and two-thirds of them are usually occupied.  Other countries’ medical systems have been so overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients that there isn’t enough room for everyone. Hospitals are canceling surgeries and other medical procedures for other patients and placing beds in hallways. Many hospitals are even running out of supplies such as sanitizing cleaner, masks, and gloves. If you have a large supply, consider donating or selling it to your local hospital so they can care for patients properly.

Anything we can do now to prevent the spread of the virus and keep people healthy will make it easier for our health care system to respond.

For now, stay safe, stay healthy, and stay home as much as possible.


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