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Helping older adults during the pandemic

April 10, 2020

With news breaking earlier this week that COVID-19 is now the leading cause of death (per day) in the U.S., many older adults and those with underlying health conditions are terrified of catching the virus. Fear itself may be impacting their overall health and stress may affect their ability to eat, sleep or function like normal.

“People over age 60 should be concerned, but not terrified,” says Michael Glickman, M.D., a primary care physician with Northwest Community Healthcare (NCH) Medical Group. “With proper handwashing and distancing, no one needs to feel like they are putting their life at risk by going to the grocery store.”

It is best for older adults to have other people run errands for them and ensure they have what they need. This is important to reduce the risk as much as possible of getting or spreading COVID-19.

“Seniors tend to live in the moment, and it can be overwhelming, where one can be consumed with anxiety and/or isolation in the midst of this crisis,” says Ronald Migalski, Executive Director of NCH Behavioral Health Services. “Reaching out to seniors to check in is critical. Staying connected is really essential and should be frequent and consistent, regardless of how it is done.”

Checking in on older neighbors and loved ones, especially those who live alone, is very important. Calling, texting or catching up via video chat can help you stay connected.

There are options to help you and your loved ones get through this time of uncertainty. If you know someone experiencing increased fear, try or suggest the following to help them cope:

  • Keep news updates to a minimum. Watching and reading about the virus all day, every day can fuel anxiety.
  • Be sure to check reliable news sources once or twice a day. Get the facts from the CDC and World Health Organization websites.
  • Stay positive, as anxiety can be contagious.
  • Reminisce by looking through family photo albums.
  • Ask loved ones to tell stories from their childhood. Really engage them on topics they enjoy.
  • Play favorite card or board games—even play virtually using video chat.
  • Urge family and friends to reach out to older loved ones.
  • Encourage older friends and family to journal.

Also, remember to be mindful of what you say. Words such as “crisis,” “epidemic” and “pandemic” are accurate, but may bring on greater anxiety.

As with all populations, seniors should follow health precautions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help stop the spread of the COVID-19, including:

  • Frequently wash hands for 20 seconds or use a hand sanitizer with a minimum of 60 percent alcohol, especially every time you go out in public, cough or sneeze.
  • Remain six feet or more away from other people.
  • Only leave home as needed for supplies or to take walks outside.

For more information on steps older adults should take to reduce risk of COVID-19, view this video from Jay Butler, M.D.,  the CDC’s Deputy Director for Infectious Diseases.