Corona Virus and Older People

Coronavirus and older people: 6 tips for families

Data from China, where Covid-19 first spread, suggests older people and people with chronic medical conditions may be at higher risk of severe illness from it.  While we have no control over certain risk factors such as age and while questions remain unanswered, there is much we can do to prepare and protect ourselves, our families and our communities.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has a dedicated Covid website and people should refer to their national public health agency’s website.  In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the US federal agency tasked with detecting and responding to new and emerging health threats, has released guidance for “People at Risk for Serious Illness from Covid-19.”

Understanding the risk

We are not sure why Covid-19 infections are worse for older patients. It may be because as we age, we experience a gradual deterioration of our immune system, making it harder for our body to fight off diseases and infection.  Many older people are also more likely to have chronic medical conditions that can hinder the body’s ability to cope with and recover from illness.  Possible risk factors for the virus progressing to severe illness may include but are not limited to older age (65 years or older) and underlying chronic medical conditions such as lung disease, cancer, heart failure, cerebrovascular disease, renal disease, liver disease, diabetes and immunocompromising conditions.

With these factors in mind, here are some actions everyone, particularly older individuals, can take:

  1. Keep your regular medications and other supplies well-stocked. The CDC recommends that people in the US all have access to several weeks of medications and supplies. Monitor food and other medical supplies needed and create a plan in the event that such resources become depleted. For families, know what medications your loved one is taking and see if you can help them have extra on-hand.
  2. Stay sanitized. Washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is a top recommendation, as is carrying sanitizing hand rubs for the times you cannot wash your hands. Make sure your home and workplaces are clean and wiped with disinfectant regularly, with particular attention to electronics.
  3. Respond to multigenerational living situations. Households, like communities, may be multigenerational, with different people at different levels of risk residing under one roof. Households, therefore, will need to consider the risks of all its members.  One important consideration is that many older adults live in homes where other members, such as children, may have frequent colds.  Families can institute changes now by not sharing personal items like food, water bottles and utensils.  If possible, choose a room in your home that can be used to separate sick household members from those who are healthy.  If possible, also choose a bathroom for the sick person to use.
  4. Develop intentional caregiver plans. Older adults may be caregivers or may receive care themselves. Caregivers and care recipients should discuss their preparation plans, including how to stay in touch via phone or email.  Determine who can provide you with care if your caregiver gets sick.  Caregivers and their care recipients will need to work together to make sure they do not expose each other to Covid-19 in the event it has emerged in their community or if either is already showing symptoms.  If you are a caregiver for someone living in a care facility, monitor the situation, ask about the health of the other residents frequently, and know the plan, if there is an outbreak.
  5. Communicate with providers and those close to you. Now is the time to talk with the people who need to be included in your plan. You may need to ask for help if you become sick.  Meet with household members, other relatives and friends to discuss your response should Covid-19 infections occur in your community.  If your neighborhood has a website or social media page, consider joining it to stay connected to neighbors, information and resources.  Anyone with symptoms should follow the recommendations from their nation’s lead public health organization.  They should stay home and call their health care provider to inform them of their symptoms.  People who live alone should have plans in place, even prior to the onset of any symptoms, for friends, family and healthcare providers to safety check on them and provide help if they do, in fact, develop symptoms or become sick.
  6. Keep abreast of essential, up-to-date information. The situation with Covid-19 is changing rapidly. Everyone should find and regularly check a trusted information source such as the WHO’s dedicated website or their national public health agency.

In this setting of well-founded concern, occasionally unfounded fears and rapidly evolving dynamics, it is always important to remember your health basics for a strong mind and body:  maintain a healthy lifestyle, which includes engaging in moderate exercise, keeping a healthy diet and getting regular sleep.

Household clusters of Covid-19 infections demonstrate the virus can spread more easily among people living under the same roof.  However, with planning, and by incorporating additional steps as more information emerges, together we can try to minimize the impact of the Covid-19.

Please Note: Those who live in multigenerational homes or who have caregiving responsibilities should make additional plans