What Older Adults Need to Know About the Coronavirus (COVID-19)

A woman washing her hands

by Patricia LaCroix, Contributing Writer

Thanks to the outbreak of the coronavirus, the entire world has changed in a very short amount of time. Accordingly, it’s important that we all recognize what’s currently happening with the coronavirus (also known COVID-19) and change some of our own behavior and actions to protect ourselves and others.

Of particular vulnerability are older adults. Seniors, as well as people with underlying health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease (which, in many cases, includes seniors as well), are at greater risk for developing a more serious — and even life-threatening — illness from the coronavirus.

But seniors — as well as the people who care for them — can take many steps to help ensure their safety. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (also known as the CDC) suggests that older adults do the following to avoid getting sick.

Stay home as much as possible

Staying home is probably the most significant action an older adult can take. The less that seniors have contact with the general public, the less their chances of contracting the coronavirus and becoming ill.

Older adults should:

  • Avoid going out in public.
  • Avoid crowds as much as possible.
  • Avoid traveling, especially on cruise ships and airplanes.

If you feel that you must go out in public, please follow these next recommendations.

Distance yourself from others

Seniors who find that they must go out in public should keep space between themselves and others as much as possible. Limit all close contact, especially in poorly ventilated spaces. A senior’s risk of exposure to respiratory viruses like COVID-19 may increase in crowded, closed-in settings with little air circulation, particularly if there are sick people in the crowd. Avoid touching other people — including kissing and hugging others.

Avoid touching surfaces in public

Avoid touching surfaces in public places, especially ones that most people touch, such as elevator buttons, door handles, and handrails. Use a tissue or your sleeve to cover your hand or finger if you must touch something. Avoid shaking hands with people as well.

Clean your home

Clean and disinfect your home to remove germs. Be sure to practice routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces, such as tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, desks, toilets, faucets, sinks, computer keyboards, and cell phones.

Wash your hands often

It sounds like something we all should know — wash your hands! But we touch a lot of things along the way of life, and it’s easy to forget. So wash your hands often with soap and water. Do so for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing, or having been in a public place.

Avoid touching your face

When you apply this step, you’ll come to realize just how often we all touch are faces. But the nose, eyes, and mouths are all perfect gateways for the virus to enter a senior’s body. If you feel like you must touch your face, use a clean tissue or paper towel, and discard it immediately.

Stock up on supplies

As an older adult, it will be easier to stay at home if you have everything you need already there. The CDC suggests that seniors have the following supplies:

  • Prescribed medications, including extra if possible. Seniors should contact their healthcare providers to ask about obtaining extra necessary medications to have on hand in case of a quarantine.
  • If seniors find themselves out of a necessary medication, consider using a mail-order prescription service. Many drugstores also provide delivery.
  • Don’t forget to have over-the-counter medicines and medical supplies on hand as well. This includes fever-reducing medications and supplies such as tissues, thermometers, and masks.
  • Enough food and household supplies to last at least a couple of weeks.

If, as an older adult, you find yourself without any of these supplies, see if a family member, friend, or neighbor can get them for you and drop them off at your door, so contact can be avoided. Many grocery delivery services are now offering front-door drop-offs, to help fulfill their customers’ needs, while still avoiding contact.

Have a plan

While you might not be completely isolated right at this moment, that could change very quickly if you come down with symptoms or if your community has a large outbreak. So you’ll want to be as prepared and ready as possible. To develop an emergency plan for such a situation, be sure to do the following:

  • Consult with a healthcare provider on how you will be monitored for any symptoms that are suggestive of COVID-19.
  • Be sure to have all contact information (names and phone numbers) available and handy, so you can stay in touch with others.
  • Determine who can care for you if your current caregiver gets sick. One of the great reasons to use Care & Comfort at Home for in-home care is that, as an agency, there are plans in case a caregiver is not available for any reason, including illness. Most private caregivers cannot offer the same. Click HERE to learn more about our in-home care services that we offer in both the Denver area and also Chicagoland.

And keep in mind — emergencies do and will happen! This coronavirus outbreak is not the first crisis to hit the United States, and it won’t be the last. To avoid difficulties during a future crisis, please also read “Three Steps to Help Older Adults Prepare for an Emergency” by clicking HERE.

Watch for symptoms

Be on guard for the following symptoms and warning signs. You might have the coronavirus if you have:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

If you feel like you are developing these symptoms, call your doctor.

If you develop emergency warning signs for COVID-19 get medical attention immediately.

In adults, emergency warning signs* include:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion or inability to arouse
  • Bluish lips or face

*This list is not all inclusive. Please consult your medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning.

What to do if a senior gets sick from the coronavirus

Seniors who get ill from the coronavirus should:

  • Stay home and CALL the doctor. It’s important to call rather than to just walk into a doctor’s office. This helps prevent the spread of the illness.
  • Let the doctor know what symptoms are being experienced and that the senior might have COVID-19.
  • If the senior is not sick enough to be hospitalized, recovery can take place at home. Click HERE to follow these important CDC instructions on how to take care of yourself at home.
  • Call for emergency help and get immediate medical attention if the senior has any of the emergency warning signs listed above.

Don’t panic

Despite all the unknowns that go along with the current virus and its pandemic, one thing is for sure: panicking is never helpful. But what is helpful is being armed with facts and taking appropriate action as necessary.

Older adults should remain calm, while taking the actions listed above. Most importantly, they should listen and follow all instructions from healthcare professionals.

Accept that life has to change — temporarily

It’s true that many of these changes are very disruptive to normal, everyday living. But it’s important to also remember that this moment in history, too, shall pass. The changes that need to be made are only temporary ones. The more that we can do now to keep the virus from overtaking our population and our healthcare system, the better life will be for everyone in the long run.

For more information on COVID-19, please visit the CDC website by clicking HERE.

Information courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and CDC.gov.

Click HERE to read our medical disclaimer.