When a new virus is circulating, it's natural for people to ask what they can do to protect themselves and their families. It seems like in the last couple of weeks, we haven't been able to turn on the news without hearing a new update or report on a novel coronavirus that causes the disease, COVID-19. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. According to the CDC, common symptoms of COVID-19 infection include sneezing, congestion, fever, cough, or shortness of breath. In some cases, particularly with older people and those with underlying medical problems, it can lead to more severe health complications and even death.
A health threat like this one is undoubtedly scary, but the best we can do for ourselves and others is take reasonable precautions to stay healthy. Our aging loved ones are especially vulnerable to developing serious complications so we wanted to share some very actionable suggestions to keep in mind.
If you are feeling sick or showing signs of respiratory illness (sneezing, coughing, or congestion), stay home! Rest, take care of yourself, and contact your healthcare professional.
Opt instead for a wave, air hug, or maybe even a wink. Think of it as a chance to get creative with ways to say hello!
Limit touching anything public with your fingers.
Use your knuckles to touch things like light switches or elevator buttons. Wipe down menus and use disposable gloves or paper towels for pumping gas. Try to avoid grabbing handles when opening doors, use your closed fist or hip or keep napkins handy.
Use disinfectant wipes whenever possible.
Look for wipes at stores, offices, and any other public spaces. Wipe down anything you’re going to touch.
Wash your hands and use hand sanitizer.
Wash your hands with soap often for 20 seconds or more. Keep hand sanitizer at the entrance to your home and in your car. Try to remember to use it after you’ve been in any location where other people have been. Use hand sanitizers that contain 60% alcohol or more to ensure efficacy.
Cough or sneeze into tissues.
If you start coughing or sneezing, keep disposable tissues handy and try using those instead of your elbow.
Clean and disinfect often.
Wipe down frequently touched objects and surfaces in your home. Focus especially on areas that you know people touch often like handles and doorknobs.
What can families and caregivers do to support older adults?
Consider early refills of important medications.
Make sure you know what medications your loved one is taking and if possible, try to have extra on hand. Many insurance companies have announced that they will work with patients to accommodate early refills.
Monitor medical supplies and have a back-up plan.
Keep an eye out to ensure they have food and other medical supplies like oxygen, incontinence products, and wound care they might need. Have a back-up plan in case one of you gets sick.
Stock up on non-perishable food items.
Try to minimize trips to the store and being out in public by buying in bulk.
Stay updated on their current physicians.
Make sure you know who their current physicians are and how to contact them.
If your loved one is in a care facility, monitor the situation. Ask what preventative and safety measures they are taking, try to stay updated on the health of other residents, and know the protocol if there were to be an outbreak.
Lastly, through it all – stay calm and try not to create panic. Talk to your Care Guide if you need any supplies delivered or need help navigating a situation or conversation. If you or your loved one start showing signs or symptoms, call your physician right away to ensure timely intervention.