How to Help Isolated Older People During a Coronavirus Outbreak

COVID-19 has changed the way we interact with our families. With older adults urged to stay away from other people as much as possible, popping in to see mom and dad is not an option.

It can be hard to keep away from your elder loved ones while the coronavirus is a threat, but it's important. As people age, their immune systems weaken and they're not as able to fight off the virus. People 60 and older, especially those with conditions like heart and lung disease, are more in danger of serious illness due to COVID-19. They're more likely to be admitted to the hospital and to die from the disease.

People who are infected with the virus don't always show symptoms. Even if you and your kids feel fine, you could unknowingly bring it into your parents' home.

But staying away can cause problems, too. People who are isolated are at greater risk for depression, anxiety, heart disease, and mental decline.

So it's time to get creative. There are things you can do to keep elderly loved ones from feeling lonely but still keep them safe.

Send Them a Care Package

The CDC recommends that everyone stock up on enough food and other supplies to stay home for a few weeks. Because it might be hard for older people to get to the store, put together a care package of things you know they'll need, such as:

  • Foods that will last for several weeks, like canned fruits and vegetables, cereal, and soup
  • Over-the-counter medicines to treat a fever, cough, and other symptoms
  • Health and medical supplies such as tissues, toilet paper, bandages, and oxygen if needed
  • Disinfecting cleaning sprays and wipes

Drop off these items at your loved ones' front door, or order them from an online store that ships.

Also make sure older people have at least a 30-day supply of their prescription drugs on hand. Offer to reorder from the drugstore when they run low, and pick up the medicine for them if you live close enough.

Schedule a Weekly Video Call

When you can't be there in person, a video call is the next best thing. Communication tools like Skype and free apps like Zoom, WhatsApp, and FaceTime can make you feel like you're together even when you're thousands of miles away. Research finds that interacting through technology improves symptoms of isolation and depression in older adults.

Schedule a time each week for a video call to check in with each other. Ask your kids to sing a song or tell a story. Or play a board game together virtually to keep the family connection alive.

Continued

Help Them Get Organized

The CDC recommends that everyone have a plan in place to protect themselves and their family during the COVID-19 outbreak. Offer to help your loved ones write up their plan. Put together a list of contact information for them that includes:

  • Local organizations such as their public health department
  • Who to call if they have symptoms
  • Emergency contacts such as family, friends, and neighbors
  • Nearby meal and grocery delivery services
  • Their doctor and health insurance company

Watch a Movie Together

You might not be able to sit side-by-side on the couch right now, but you can still take in a movie with your loved ones. Streaming services like Netflix Party and Metastream will let you chat with each other while you watch your favorite flicks.

Host a Book Club

Use your extra time to catch up on all the books you and your parents have had on your read-next list. Each week, have one person choose a book for everyone in the family to read. At the end of the week, schedule a video chat session to discuss the story.

Check in With Their Facility

Be especially vigilant if your loved ones live in an assisted living or nursing home. There have been several COVID-19 outbreaks at these places. Call the home and find out what they're doing to protect their residents. Ask questions like:

  • What procedures will you follow if there is an outbreak?
  • Have any of the residents been sick?
  • How do you identify people who are sick?
  • What is your policy on visitors?
  • What medical supplies do you have on hand in case of an outbreak?
  • What is your sick leave policy?
  • Do you have a plan in place for when staff are sick?

Write Letters

Letter writing may be a neglected art these days, but it's one of the most heartfelt ways to stay connected. Sometimes it's easier to express yourself and tell your loved ones what they mean to you on paper than over the phone or in person.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on March 24, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

CDC: "Checklist to Get Ready," "Get Ready for COVID-19," "How it Spreads," "Older Adults," "People Who Are at Higher Risk for Severe Illness," "Preparing for COVID-19: Long-Term Care Facilities, Nursing Homes."

MMWR: "Severe outcomes among patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) -- United States, February 12-March 16, 2020."

National Council on Aging: "UPDATED: Coronavirus: What Older Adults Need to Know."

The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry: "Tele-behavioral activation for social isolation in older home-delivered meals recipients: Preliminary results from an ongoing randomized controlled trial."

The Lancet: "COVID-19 and the consequences of isolating the elderly."

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

Pagination