As Coronavirus (COVID-19) quickly spreads around the globe, millions of people will be affected - with senior citizens being especially at risk. Here, we’ve gathered the latest news and research so you can easily see everything you need to know about coronavirus, how it affects seniors, and how to protect against it.
What is there to know about Coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are actually a large family of viruses. Coronavirus 19, or COVID-19, is a novel type of virus within the coronavirus family. Human coronaviruses generally cause respiratory tract infections that range from the common cold to more serious diseases like SARS. COVID-19 is spread like the seasonal flu - through respiratory particles from infected people that are inhaled through the mouth or nose. This can be passed through people coughing or sneezing into the air, through touching or shaking hands, or by touching surfaces with the virus on it and then touching the nose, mouth or eyes. The virus spreads very easily and it’s incubation period is 2-14 days. This means people can be transmitting the disease before they even know they have it. People can also have Coronavirus and be completely asymptomatic.
Symptoms, severity and mortality
The CDC has said that older adults or those with severe chronic diseases are the most likely to be at risk. Older adults are almost twice as likely to develop a severe case of COVID-19. As people age their immune systems weaken, making it harder to fight off infection. Many older people also already have underlying conditions, which complicate their ability to battle with a new disease or infection. Age also increases the risk that the respiratory system will shut down when an older person contracts COVID-19. Eight out of ten deaths reported in the US have been adults ages 65 or older, most with an already existing condition. 51% of adults 85 and older that contract the disease need to be hospitalized while 45% of adults 65-85 that contract the disease need to be hospitalized. 18% of adults 85 and older that contract the disease require admission into an intensive care unit while 21% of adults 65-85 require admission into an intensive care unit. 19% of adults over 85 that contract the disease will end up dying while 8% of adults 65-85 will end up dying. In total, only 1% of coronaviruses cases will result in death. However, the fatality rate can vary based on age and pre-existing conditions.
What seniors should do to protect themselves
The best way to prevent illness is to avoid exposure. Since older adults are the most at risk, they should be the most persistent and take the following actions:
● Keep space between yourself and others - the CDC recommends at least 6 feet but it is always better to try to maintain more distance if possible.
● Try not to go out in public at all. If you have to, keep a large space between you and others and wash your hands as much as possible.
● Don’t touch your mouth or face if you are outside or have touched someone or a surface that hasn’t been disinfected.
● Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw the tissue in the trash.
● Try to reduce the amount of news and information you are receiving about the Coronavirus. Creating stress and fear will only weaken your immune system.
● Spend time outside! This will help keep your mental health doing well in times of isolation. Just make sure that you are keeping distance between yourself and any others that may be outside.
● Clean all your household surfaces with disinfectants regularly.
● Regularly wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Make sure you are covering the backs of the hands, the wrists, in between the fingers, and under the fingernails. You should wash your hands every time you interact with anyone or anything outside of your quarantine area.
● Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs.
● Talk with people you trust about your concerns or how you are feeling - don’t keep fears or concerns bottled up inside.
● Make sure to enjoy some hobbies or find new activities to try to keep your time occupied and your mind engaged.
● Avoid all cruise travel and all non-essential air travel.
● It is still normal flu season so consider still getting your annual flu shot. Talk to your doctor or healthcare professional first.
● Beware of scams - watch out for emails claiming to be from the CDC or any offering vaccines or treatments for sale. There are currently no vaccines, pills, vitamins or over the counter products to treat COVID-19 for sale.
What family members should do to protect seniors
Family members are of utmost importance to seniors during this pandemic. Family members should be planning ahead to make sure their loved ones have everything they need in terms of food and supplies, as well as checking in on their exercise routine and mental health. Many older adults rely on services and support provided in their living centers and communities to maintain their health and dependence. During these times family members can help seniors with the following:
● Help them prepare supplies for extended period of isolation - this includes a 30 day supply of non-perishable food items and essential toiletries.
● Have a plan of action in case their caregiver or stay at home nurse calls in sick. Make sure you know who will step in to fill that role.
● Make sure they cancel all non-essential doctor’s appointments.
● Help them set up technology like FaceTime or GoogleHangouts so that they can stay in touch during their period of isolation.
● Make sure anyone who potentially came into contact with COVID-19 is not going to visit a senior. In fact, all contact should be as limited as possible.
● Help them stock up on their medications in advance. Some prescriptions can be switched to 90 day supplies. If not, have the pharmacy deliver the prescriptions directly to your family member - do not have them out going to the pharmacy.
● Encourage them to spend some time outside. Walking outside, jogging, or gardening/landscaping will do wonders for keeping up their exercise routines and their mental health.
● Call your family member regularly! If they aren’t having any social interaction because of isolation, regular phone calls may help keep their mental health well.
● Stock up on non-perishable food items that you can have on hand so your loved one doesn’t need to take trips to the grocery store.
● If your loved one is in a nursing home or assisted care facility, monitor the situation there frequently. Know the protocol if there is an outbreak.
● If your loved one is living at home with you, make sure to keep as much distance as possible between people in the home. Limit the elder to one area of the house and try to not share any personal items. Limit contact with the elder to one person in the family. This primary person should also limit their interactions with people outside the home to reduce their risk of exposure.
Should family members consider taking their loved ones out of a senior living facility?
More than 1 million people live in nursing homes and more than 800,000 people live in residential care communities. As coronavirus proves difficult to contain and people over 65 are more likely to be at risk, people have started wondering whether they should remove family members from senior living communities. Every senior care facility has infection control protocols in place. If you are concerned about your elder loved ones, reach out to the care facility and see what their protocols are. You have to balance the care that your elderly family member can get in a facility versus if you took them home. Rehousing a loved one is a very serious decision that requires an individualized approach based on a person’s care needs. It’s a choice that carries severe consequences. Do you actually have the ability to care for your loved one at home? They are in a facility specifically because they need extra care. In the end, it is a choice that comes down to the family but it is better to be subjective with your decision - will they actually be at less risk of disease exposure from your home and do you truly have the facilities and resources to take care of them at home?
The situation around Coronavirus (COVID-19) is changing rapidly and new information may come out from the CDC everyday. Make sure to keep up to date with new information, as guidelines and recommendations could change.
If you have more questions, Advocate In-Home Care an American In-Home Care company can help. Visit our website to learn more about the in home health services we offer for you and your loved ones.