Coronavirus and the Elderly: How to Protect Your Senior Loved Ones
If you’re concerned about the spread of COVID-19 — short for coronavirus disease — you’re not alone. The recent news has been alarming, especially since elderly people are particularly vulnerable to this disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The virus is currently spreading in multiple regions throughout the world, including the United States.
With so much misinformation circulating, it can be difficult to know what to do to protect yourself and your elderly loved ones. But don’t panic: you and your loved ones can take actions to reduce the risk of becoming ill from COVID-19.
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is the official name for the upper respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus that emerged in Wuhan, China, late last year. A coronavirus is a type of virus recognized by its spiky, crown-like surface. Although most coronaviruses just cause common cold symptoms, this new coronavirus can be more dangerous.
In fact, on March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a global pandemic as the coronavirus spread across the world. The symptoms of COVID-19 can take between 2 and 14 days to show after someone becomes infected. According to WHO, symptoms of COVID-19 typically include:
- Dry cough
Some people may also develop nasal congestion, body aches, a runny nose, sore throat, or diarrhea.
In most healthy people, symptoms are mild and appear gradually. In such cases, medical attention is not always needed. However, in vulnerable populations such as the elderly and people with chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, or lung disease, symptoms can become serious and may include:
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Persistent chest pain or pressure
- New confusion or difficulty waking
- Blue coloration of the lips or face
If you or your elderly loved ones are experiencing these more serious symptoms, the CDC recommends you seek medical attention immediately.
How Does COVID-19 Spread?
Anyone infected with COVID-19 can spread the disease, even if they haven’t yet developed symptoms or have only very mild ones. COVID-19 can be spread in a number of ways, including:
- Close contact (within six feet) with an infected individual.
- Contact with respiratory droplets from an infected individual. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, expelled respiratory droplets can carry the virus and can be inhaled by or land in the nose or mouth of someone close by.
- Contact with infected surfaces, followed by touching your nose, mouth, or eyes, may also spread COVID-19. Although this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, similar coronaviruses are known to persist for hours or days on surfaces.
How Can You Protect Your Elderly Loved Ones from the Coronavirus?
The best way to protect yourself and senior your loved ones from COVID-19 is to reduce your risk for catching the virus.
The CDC recommends the following practices to reduce your risk:
- Avoid being in close contact with people who are sick
- Do not touch your eyes, nose, and mouth
- Cover your sneeze or cough with a disposable tissue, and then throw the tissue out
- Stay home as much as possible, especially if you are sick
- Frequently clean and disinfect objects you touch
- Follow the CDC’s travel advisories
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If you cannot use soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol content. Always wash your hands after using the restroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
- Stock up on supplies before you need them. Consider switching to mail-order prescriptions or ask your medical provider for extra medical supplies and medications in the event that your community experiences an outbreak of COVID-19. Make sure to have enough groceries to stay home for some time and a sufficient stockpile of over-the-counter medicines and supplies like cough drops, pain relievers, and tissues to treat a mild case of COVID-19.
- The CDC recommends all people wear a cloth face-covering in public settings where it may be difficult to follow social distancing practices, such as the grocery store, pharmacy, or the doctor's office. The CDC does not recommend wearing medical-grade masks because these critical supplies need to be reserved for healthcare workers. Use a cloth face-covering if you or someone you are in close contact with has COVID-19. The CDC also recommends that people who are showing symptoms of COVID-19 use cloth face-coverings to help them prevent spreading the disease.
Professional Caregivers Can Take Steps to Protect the Elderly
In a letter submitted to the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) on March 11, 2020, the National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC) urged regulators to make several sweeping changes that would free up home health providers in their fight against COVID-19.
“It is increasingly apparent that care in the home is the most prudent approach whether for purposes of isolating potentially infected individuals, providing direct virus-related care or addressing the risks of infection caused by avoidable exposure to other individuals,” the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group’s letter stated. “As you well know, the elderly and those with fragile health conditions are considered the highest risk members of our society.”
Home care professionals can help seniors follow the CDC’s recommendations to reduce the risk of catching the virus. While following these practices can help reduce the risk of catching COVID-19, remember to still keep an eye on your elderly loved ones and watch for symptoms of COVID-19.
A qualified in-home caregiver can also monitor your elderly loved one for symptoms and alert family caregivers if symptoms develop.
If serious symptoms develop, have your loved ones seek medical treatment immediately. Always be sure to listen to your local public health officials and follow their advice.