COVID-19: How seniors and other vulnerable people can be helped and help themselves

the elderly are among those at greatest risk of a terrible outcome should they develop COVID-19

The threat of COVID-19 is a very big deal and the elderly are among those at greatest risk of a terrible outcome should they develop COVID-19.

There are, however, things seniors can do to reduce the chance of being infected with the novel coronavirus. And there are many things neighbors, friends, family, and even strangers can do to make isolation bearable.

READ ALSO: Telehealth—One of Healthcare's Fastest-growing Initiatives.

Here are some of the ideas.

If you want to help those at risk...
  • If you hoarded, make it right. If you over-purchased basics like toilet paper and canned goods at the beginning of the crisis, donate some of it to a senior center or food bank so those who are vulnerable can get some. Give some to a neighbor who can’t go out, as well.
  • Offer to be a text, phone or errand buddy. Look around your neighborhood for those who are vulnerable, then leave a note on the door. “I can pick up groceries.” “We can text or talk on the phone.”
  • Offer to disinfect the kitchen and hard surfaces in other often-used areas. For hard surfaces, where possible, use one part bleach with nine parts of water, per CDC guidelines.
  • Take the canine pals for a walk for those who can’t.
  • Be a “caremonger.” Their group now numbers in the thousands. You can create your own version by joining with others in your neighborhood to reach out to the vulnerable. Just remember to keep a physical distance and practice good hygiene.
  • Use technology to be “together.” Isolation is going to create loneliness for some elderly people. Set up smartphones so the older person can Facetime, Skype or do other video callings. You can have a contact that’s virtual, not risky.
  • Help someone in isolation find interesting things online. 
  • Help them cultivate interests or find new ones. Being stuck inside is a good time to learn a new craft or skill or figure out something they may have been interested in but never had time to explore.
  • Buy the person an audiobook or podcast subscription. Some may need help navigating them at first.
  • Call regularly to check-in, but also make time just to chat.
  • Run errands, but consolidate to limit everyone’s exposure. Everyone, not just older people, should be staying away from others as much as possible. So pick up groceries for others who can’t, but limit trips. You can leave the goods at the front door or make sure to maintain a distance when you enter a home. And sanitize before and after delivery.
  • Help set up grocery delivery or curbside pickup. That way, he can do his own shopping and be in control. Remind those who are used to having lunch at the local senior center that it’s now available curbside in some cities.
  • Tap into an online community. Whether you like art or zoology, music or meditation, there is a program for you. You register so the groups stay fairly small, then dial in toll-free (some also connect via computer, tablet or mobile device).
  • Let them know. If you see, for example, that a local store chain is offering special hours for older people to shop, make sure elderly neighbors who insist on shopping themselves know about it. Several grocery chains are now doing that to help those who are older.
  • Be a contact with out-of-town relatives in case of an emergency. Ask your vulnerable friends whose children aren’t nearby to share your phone number with their family in case they need your help and another set of watchful eyes.
If you are vulnerable...
  • Heed expert advice. The single most important thing anyone can do during this crisis is to follow the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Limit public activities and stay out of crowds, especially if you’re in a high-risk category.
  • Make a safety plan. What would you do in an emergency while you’re self-isolating? Who would you call? How many supplies, from food to medicine, do you have on hand?
  • Skip large family gatherings like Sunday dinner. Isolate as much as possible, but if you do get together, keep it very small and practice excellent hygiene. Wash hands, cover sneezes, make sure nearby surfaces are disinfected, and don’t get too physically close to each other. Johns Hopkins Medicine and other health experts say to stay 6 feet or more away from others — especially the vulnerable.
  • Cancel nonessential doctor appointments for now.
  • Have a list of groups that can help. AARP says to “create a list of community and faith-based organizations that you or the people in your plan can contact in the event you lack access to information, health care services, support, and resources.”
  • Make use of your time to record memories. If you have treasured memories and stories you haven’t shared, it’s a good time to record them, whether digitally or on paper.
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