Supporting Senior Loved Ones As The Coronavirus Rages On

At the beginning of this month, much of the country opened access to greater commerce and socialization. However, the great opening up will not include everyone. Most of the seniors (age 60+) I’ve talked to have no intention of going to a restaurant this month.  Many are still reluctant to even get a haircut, despite the pleas from local salons that they are sanitizing everything, wearing masks, and in many cases have reconfigured the salon to keep clients socially distanced from one another. 

It’s particularly scary for older adults to venture outside the confines of their homes because they know they are the ones most vulnerable to having a rough ride should they contract covid-19, and the disease might possibly end their lives. However, like everyone in the U.S. and abroad, older adults have been isolating themselves as much as possible for almost three months and the loneliness and boredom aren’t getting any easier. Some adults over 80 reside in senior communities which have been locked down during that entire time. These communities, some of which have been hit hard by the coronavirus, have little hope of participating in the ‘great opening up’ until they have adequate access to testing and personal protection equipment (PPE). Other adults in their 80s and 90s are still living independently. Wherever your older loved ones reside, they will most likely not be participating in the great opening up for at least several more months. 

In searching for additional ideas about how to help older adults cope with the continuing isolation and quarantine, whether mandated or self-chosen, I was delighted to come across an excellent source in Reviews.com. Their report “How to Support Loved Ones While Quarantining.” This well-researched article focuses on ways to keep older adults healthy and secure through long-term solutions and practices. The premise of this piece seems to be that this will not be the last public health crisis we will see necessitating stepped-up safety measures, including the possibility of quarantine. We should be prepared with long-term solutions, tools, and measures to support our older family members and loved ones. What follows are some of the recommendations proposed in the report:

Create Positive Routines

The report’s focus here is on developing hobbies or pastimes that are interesting and absorbing. The author provides the following examples:

  1. Cooking
  2. Reading
  3. Home improvement
  4. Sewing
  5. Painting
  6. Writing
  7. Model building
  8. Jigsaw puzzles

These are all excellent ways to pass many hours of time and some have a tangible result that can be enjoyed as a bonus.

Care for Your Body

If you are alive today, you have certainly heard many times the admonition to eat healthfully and find a way to move your body every day. Adults of any age can discover new ways to exercise their muscles, often doing things they enjoy anyway. Movement is a great stress reducer. There are now yoga poses that can be executed from a chair and all ages can learn to meditate. The following physical activities, all of which can be done at home are recommended for older adults:

  1. Walking (while social distancing)
  2. Gardening
  3. Tai chi
  4. Yoga
  5. Riding a stationary bicycle
  6. Lifting hand weights

Connecting with Loved Ones on a Regular Basis

It is easy to find research studies connecting social isolation with higher risks for all sorts of physical and mental decline. The Review.com report cites the National Institute on Aging study, which called out greater risk for heart disease, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, obesity, high blood pressure, and a weakened immune system. Clearly, isolation is a serious risk for older adults at any time, and during a pandemic, the problem is greatly exacerbated. 

The report acknowledges that although the majority of adults over 65 have a cellphone, not all of them are smartphones, so it may be necessary to teach your loved ones to use more advanced technology than they have previously been comfortable with. They recommend the following guidelines when doing so:

  1. Be patient; never condescend
  2. Avoid acronyms and jargon
  3. Accept physical limitations (like diminished eyesight and hearing) and accommodate for them as best you can
  4. Encourage hands-on experience.  You guide and explain; they execute
  5. Celebrate progress and encourage confidence

Frustration can be a significant barrier.  It leads to diminished self-confidence and lack of motivation to pursue greater use of technology. Overcoming this obstacle, with patience, humor, and perseverance will make it much easier for you and your loved one.

Ensure your Loved Ones have Supplies to Last

Just-in-time shopping is not an option during a pandemic, especially for older adults, so make sure they have the groceries, medications, and other household products they need for the next couple of weeks. You may need to set up delivery services or ensure that your loved one knows how to order, schedule, and receive goods safely.  

Consider an Adjustment to your/their Living Situation

Older adults in your family may be better off living with an adult child or other relative, a caregiver, or in an assisted living community. This will greatly diminish the possibility that they take a fall or otherwise injure themselves during a time when it may be difficult to access the treatment and care they need. It also provides more opportunities for them to get their needs met.

Prepare for Emergencies

Make sure your loved ones have a medical alert device or a home automation tool (e.g. Amazon Echo AMZN ) for access to help during a medical emergency. These devices are simple to use, will connect automatically with 911, and require no technological savvy once they have been set up in the home.

Ensure Security

Since your loved one may be isolated for many months, it’s important that they feel safe in their home. You may want to install a home security system to give them a better sense of security.  It’s also important that you get to know the neighbors around your loved one’s home. They may be the first line of defense in a true emergency

Remove Hazards

While you are making some of the above adjustments to your loved one’s environment, take the time to look around the house for hazards that may lead to a fall. With their agreement, you may want to jointly make some changes in the arrangement of furniture, area rugs, lighting, and excess “stuff” that may lead to tripping and falling.

I think it’s safe to assume that this won’t be the last pandemic we will see in our lifetime and looking ahead to ensure the safety of the older members of your family and your community will be a smart move.

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