Protecting The Elderly From COVID

Everyone is at risk of contracting coronavirus, but seniors are especially vulnerable. Here, we offer a rundown on protecting the elderly from COVID.

Elderly person washing their hands

Buying six packages of toilet paper and every bottle of water in the supermarket might quell coronavirus anxiety temporarily, but when it comes to protecting your aging loved ones, there’s a better plan.

At the time of this post, Michigan has 65 confirmed cases of coronavirus and nearly every state has at least one confirmed case, according to the latest from the New York Times. Experts say the spreading will most likely get worse before it gets better – that’s an issue for the oldest members of our community.

The elderly population is most vulnerable because as people age, the immune system becomes weaker and other health problems crop up, says Asha Shajahan, the medical director of community health for Beaumont’s Grosse Pointe location. Other vulnerable populations include those with heart or lung disease and diabetes, says the CDC.

But Shajahan says there are concrete steps families can take to help protect their elderly loved one from COVID.

Step 1: Wash your hands

“The first thing is washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds,” Shajahan says. It’s the first line of defense to prevent spreading the illness.

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It might seem like common sense, but washing your hands is one of the most effective ways to prevent the virus – there are even lists of songs to wash your hands to.

Step 2: Social distancing

Michigan’s schools, museums and now bars and restaurants are closed for the next few weeks, so some social distancing has already started.

“Going to the grocery store, or throwing a family gathering – it’s not the best time for that,” says Shajahan. “If you have doctors’ appointments, postpone them, and any travel should be postponed.”

What about grandparents providing childcare for kids who are home from school right now?

Shajahan says the risk is too high for those 80 and over, period. For those who are younger, “it’s just not a wise idea to put them at risk.”

“If they’re healthy and don’t have any comorbidities, take regular precautions,” she explains. “Don’t have ten kids over at once.”

Shajahan adds that keeping your distance from older loved ones can leave them feeling isolated or lonely, so be sure to keep in touch using FaceTime or other video and phone communication.

This simulation of what happens when we do or don’t practice social distancing is helpful in understanding just how effective it is. Plus, experts say some people do not show symptoms, so you can feel fine, but still spread it. In short – if you can stay home, do it.

Step 3: Maintain a clean space

“You want to make sure that the home or facility (where your older loved ones live) is clean,” Shajahan says.

Cleaning with soap and water will do the trick, as will ammonia or alcohol-based cleaning products. Mixing 4 teaspoons bleach with a quart of water will also make an effective cleaning solution, but don’t try to use baby wipes as they might not kill the virus.

“We know the virus can live up to three days on certain surfaces, so make sure those surfaces are clean,” she says. “If you have a cleaning lady that comes once a week, make sure someone comes by to clean it down every day.”

The virus can live up to 24 hours on cardboard and 72 hours on stainless steel, says a recent study by a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. So if you’re bringing in canned goods in a cardboard box for older loved ones, be mindful.

Step 4: Think ahead

What happens if the caregiver of an aging loved one falls ill? Shajahan says now is the time to put that plan together.

“Have a chain of command,” she says. “If the sibling who is the caregiver gets sick, who steps in?”

Putting a plan in place ahead of time can reduce panic and anxiety if something does happen.

Things that aren’t helpful

“I don’t know the logic behind buying the mask thing or buying so much toilet paper,” she says. “Keep in mind that masks are needed for people who are sick and health care professionals.”

One of the biggest mistakes people are making is not taking this seriously, she adds.

“It’s a public health emergency – the purpose of these precautions is so that we don’t get people who can die sick.”

For more information on how to protect your loved ones from COVID, check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines.

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