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In all the whirl of uncertainty and conflicting statements that dominate the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems that one thing is for sure: the virus is particularly dangerous for the elderly and people with preexisting conditions, which have a high incidence among the elderly anyway. Data from China, Europe, and the US, all shows that people over 65 have an increased risk of contracting the virus and experiencing health complications. As a result, one of the first recommendations from the World Health Organization was to keep senior relatives inside as much as possible and take extra precautions to protect them. If you have elderly loved ones living alone or in a care home, you may be feeling anxious or scared about their future. Fortunately, you’re not completely powerless and, by following a few precautions, you can help your senior relatives stay healthy and safe throughout this pandemic.
Avoid unnecessary visits
In this period, you may be anxious and feel the need to check on your loved one more than usual, but health experts say that this could do more harm than good. Because some cases of COVID-19 are asymptomatic and the virus has a relatively long incubation period, there’s a chance you may have it and not know. Yet, the virus can be passed on to someone else.
If your loved one is in a nursing home, they may have already adjusted visiting hours or started lock down to limit exposure and protect the seniors, so make sure you call to inquire about their policy before coming. Restrictions don’t necessarily mean that you have to stop visits but rather that you have to stop unnecessary contact.
This advice also applies if your loved one is at home. As difficult as it may be to see them less often, it’s for their own good.
If you feel that you’re being paranoid and taking too many precautions, you’re doing the right thing. Whether your parent or grandparent lives at home or in a care center, you have to establish some ground rules and precautions:
- When visiting your loved one to check on them or deliver groceries, stay outside and avoid physical contact. No hugging, kissing, or handshaking.
- Reduce contact between grandparents and grandkids. Preliminary research shows that children are less likely to display symptoms once infected, but they can spread the disease.
- Always sanitize your hands before visiting. If you’re worried that you might have the virus, wear a mask.
- Tell them not to leave their home unnecessarily and avoid contact with neighbors
- Tell them to postpone any travel plans, such as cruises and trips, until further notice
- If possible, arrange that someone else delivers their groceries and runs their errands
- If your loved one lives at home but is looked after by a home carer, make sure they practice excellent hygiene and take the right safety precautions
- If your loved one is in a nursing home, call them to make sure they have a protocol in place to prevent infection
- Make sure that your or another emergency contact can reach your loved one or their family doctor quickly
- Give your loved on a list of contacts that they can reach out to if they have an emergency or are worried that they’re getting sick
A healthy lifestyle is more important than ever for seniors
Chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, or asthma can increase the risk of complications and cause an aggressive form of the disease, so apart from taking all the safety precautions above, it’s essential for your elderly relative to maintain a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
When doing their groceries, make sure they have a bit of every food group and that their meals cover all their nutritional needs. Fruits, vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, and healthy fats are essential in strengthening their immune system. The experts at Mind Your Head York also recommend adding supplements into their diet because seniors tend to have a lower calorie intake, and their bodies are less efficient at absorbing essential nutrients such as vitamin B12, folic acid, and calcium.
If your loved one is still in relatively good health, encourage them to stay active by doing light exercises, gardening, or cleaning the house. Physical activity not only boosts the immune but also promotes a positive state of mind and helps reduce anxiety.
Practice physical distancing, not social distancing
Recently, experts have changed the term “social distancing” to “physical distancing” because the former was rather misleading and gave people the impression that they had to avoid each other entirely. Social distancing isn’t about this – it’s about reducing physical contact, but that doesn’t mean we should be disconnected and stop all forms of interaction with loved ones. On the contrary, this is the best time to come together as a society and show support even if we’re not physically there.
Studies show that one in three seniors struggle with loneliness, and, most of the time, they feel isolated. The current pandemic can amplify the effects of this loneliness and cause a worrying series of health hazards: altered brain function, decreased memory, higher stress levels, and even faster progression of degenerative brain disease. So, while you’re social distancing to protect your loved one from the novel coronavirus, stay mindful of their needs and don’t shut them out of your life. Your visits, afternoon visits from neighbors, daily trips to the grocery stores may have been their only occasions to socialize, so when these are taken from them, they can feel sad, angry, and confused.
To help your loved one feel less lonely, schedule daily video calls, let them talk to their grandchildren on Skype and read them bedtime stories, tell them about your day, and take the time to answer their questions. It seems that the current state of events had the roles switched, and you may feel that your parent is now the teenager and you’re the overprotective one. As tempting and understandable as it might be to lose your patience and shout as you’re coming to terms with your own anxiety, we could all be a little more patient and compassionate with our elderly loved ones.