During this uncertain time, it is essential to take steps to increase the safety and wellbeing of senior loved ones. As well documented by the CDC, seniors are at high risk for COVID-19 and must take extreme precautions to reduce exposure to the virus and avoid severe infection. There are numerous ways you can support a senior’s health from both near and far. Keep reading for three essential steps to help your senior stay healthy and safe.
1) Be Vigilant in Looking for Symptoms
Try to connect with the seniors in your life (either virtually or physically) daily. Be sure to ask questions to learn how they are feeling to gauge if they are experiencing any early signs of being infected by the virus.
In addition to the more popularly known symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, tiredness, dry cough, aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, diarrhea), a recent article by Kaiser Health News suggests that seniors can show different symptoms that are making it more difficult to ensure they get timely and appropriate treatment. The article reports that some seniors are not showing typical signs to the virus (fever, cough, shortness of breath), but instead seniors who are infected are showing signs of being “off.” This could mean sleeping more than usual or lacking an appetite. Additionally, a senior showing early signs of infection may seem “unusually apathetic or confused, losing orientation to their surroundings. They may become dizzy and fall. Sometimes, seniors stop speaking or simply collapse.” Be sure to look for these signs or ask your loved one’s caregiver about any of these lesser known symptoms.
Lastly, you can use technology to further check on the health and wellbeing of a senior family member. Tempo from CarePredict is a wearable health device that can help a loved one monitor heartbeat, temperature, and activity of the user by means of a wearable device similar to an Apple Watch (without a screen). Using this type of device can help you keep your loved one safe by checking on symptoms without the risk of exposure.
2) Caregiver Protocols
If you are not directly caring for an elderly loved one, it is important to understand what precautions are being taken by the person or organization that is. Limited direct contact with visitors is essential. If possible, seniors and others vulnerable to the virus should limit the number of people they are in contact with including caregivers.
The caregiver and/or organization should have a clear approach to protecting the safety of your loved one. When the caregiver is in contact with a senior, protective equipment should be worn at all times including (but not limited to), N-95 masks, face shields, gowns, and gloves. Caregivers should also be active in providing both themselves and their clients with daily checks for fever, cough, shortness of breath, GI concerns, body aches and loss of smell/taste. View Always Here’s detailed three step approach to ensure both client and caregiver safety.
3) Decreasing Isolation and Increasing Emotional Wellbeing
Social distancing measures during the COVID-19 outbreak have made it harder for loved ones to connect with seniors in their lives, making mental wellbeing a concern. Being socially isolated is a source of extreme stress for anyone, but for seniors the stress of the current pandemic is heightened. These precautions include isolating from visitors (especially children) and avoiding going outside. These “social distancing” measures are in strong contrast to the lifestyle typically recommended for older adults. During healthier times, geriatricians advocated for consistent social engagement and community involvement for older adults and know first hand the poor health outcomes associated with social isolation.
When it is not safe to visit an elderly loved one in person, the next best thing is to connect virtually to help a loved one feel less isolated. However, this can be a challenge for many. While some seniors are technically savvy, some struggle with using a laptop, iPad or phone. This can be extremely frustrating in a time in which so many are relying on virtual communication to connect with friends and family.
However, there are solutions that can help support your loved one navigate this unfamiliar territory. You can help your loved one use their computer by enabling remote access. For less than $5 a month, you can install RealVNC on your loved one’s computer. This gives you complete access to their computer (as if you are right there with them). You can move their mouse to set up a Skype call, join a community meeting, fix a problem they are experiencing on their computer, or play some comforting music. By making sure your loved one can be connected virtually despite not having technical savvy, you can help ease the feeling of isolation and improve morale during this unprecedented time.
While these three tips are a great place to start in keeping your elderly loved one healthy, please regularly check the CDC website, including the section of their website dedicated to resources for older adults.