The COVID-19 outbreak has made older adults the most vulnerable. Because their immune systems are weaker, older adults and people with chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, cancer, and hypertension, are the most compromised in the general population.
According to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, the main symptoms of COVID-19 for older people include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Not everyone with COVID-19 will experience symptoms, or they may be mild enough that they are dismissed, but they can still be contagious.
For these reasons, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just issued a warning that older people are at the highest risk for serious illness amid this outbreak. The World Health Organization has recommended several steps for caretakers of older adults to take during the outbreak that will help alleviate their anxiety:
- Provide practical and emotional support through informal networks (families) and health professionals.
- Share simple facts about what is going on and give clear information about how to reduce the risk of infection in words older people with/without cognitive impairment can understand.
- Repeat the information whenever necessary. Instructions need to be communicated in a clear, concise, respectful and patient way. And it may also be helpful for information to be displayed in writing or pictures.
- Engage their family and other support networks in providing information and helping them practice prevention measures (e.g. handwashing etc.).
- Encourage older adults with expertise, experiences and strengths to volunteer in community efforts to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak (for example the well/healthy retired older population can provide peer support, neighbor checking, and childcare for medical personnel restricted in hospitals fighting against COVID-19.)
Similarly, the CDC recommends that families:
- Know what medications your loved one is taking and see if you can help them have extra on hand.
- Monitor food and other medical supplies (oxygen, incontinence, dialysis, wound care) needed and create a back-up plan.
- Stock up on non-perishable food to have on hand in your home to minimize trips to stores.
- If you care for a loved one living in a care facility, monitor the situation, ask about the health of the other residents frequently and know the protocol if there is an outbreak.