With seniors at a disproportionate risk, it is important for them to be even more vigilant than the rest of the population when it comes to protection against COVID 19. By now, mask-wearing, extra handwashing, and social distancing have become the norm, but what else can we do to help seniors during this pandemic? The physical effects of COVID 19 are one thing. However, there is also an emotional toll from trying to stay safe. We should not only focus on disease protection, but also on combatting the emotional side effects of the pandemic.
Many seniors rely on caregivers, whether professional or through family members, to help them with activities of daily living in order to remain safely independent. For seniors during this pandemic that depend on others, it is especially important to remain as distant as possible, even if the person is in the same home but has not been sheltering in place. This has two benefits. Obviously remaining as distant as possible reduces the transmission risk of COVID 19, but it also reduces the transmission risks of other illnesses. If an older person catches something like the flu, there is a higher chance they may have to go to a clinic or hospital to receive care. If they’re in a high-traffic healthcare setting, their risk of catching COVID 19 increases greatly.
For seniors that don’t rely on caregivers, sheltering in place and avoiding public places with crowds is still the best defense against the novel virus. The only issue with this is that it is very easy to feel isolated and alone, resulting in negative emotional side effects. To reduce this, try to call or video chat your loved one as frequently as possible. While not a replacement for actual human contact, it will make the seniors during this pandemic feel like they are still part of your network. You can also watch movies together through a video chatting app which can be fun for the whole family. For seniors that are used to going to religious services as a way to stay involved in their community, many religious organizations are not only offering video services, but also parking lot services where people can still remain a part of their church from the safety of the car.
For seniors during this pandemic living in assisted living centers, care homes, or nursing homes, visiting hours have been cut drastically, if not entirely in most cases, to stop major outbreaks. If your loved one is living in a long term care community, these past several months have undoubtedly been extremely tough. Under the White House’s guidelines, long-term care communities are going to be some of the last public places to reopen. That being said, many communities have had to become more creative in how they plan activities in order to fight senior isolation. Staff have become trained in how to use video calling and most places now offer virtual visiting hours. Thankfully, with testing being more readily available, residents are safer now than they were in the beginning of the pandemic. Because of this, residents no longer have to stay sequestered in their private rooms. Residents can participate in activities with each other and things like movie night, bingo, hobby classes, and communal dining are thankfully coming back.
Lastly, it is extremely important to push physical activity even if you’re not living in the same house as your loved one. Physical activity helps stave off boredom, releases endorphins for positive mood, and improves quality of life. The stronger a senior is, the longer they can remain safely independent regardless of COVID 19. Many seniors rely on group classes to exercise, which are still closed, but the worst thing right now would be to stop exercising entirely and fall into a sedentary lifestyle. Being sedentary increases the risks of nearly every age-related disease and illness irrespective of COVID 19. For those who can still safely walk on their own, walking around the neighborhood is a great way to see other people out and about while remaining socially distant.
Max Gottlieb is the content manager for Senior Planning. Senior Planning offers free care assistance as well as legal document services, guardianship services, and help with benefits.