Caring For Seniors During COVID-19

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Photo courtesy of BigStock/DragosCondrea

Minnesota Board on Aging Executive Director Kari Benson shares how seniors can stay safe during COVID-19, and how loved ones can help them from afar.

It’s common knowledge that older adults are among the most impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people aged 65 years and older, as well as those living in nursing homes or long-term care facilities, are at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19. And as the number of confirmed cases in the United States continues to rise, seniors are at an even greater risk of contracting the virus. So what do seniors and their loved ones do to keep them safe during this unprecedented time?

“We are encouraging older adults to follow the Health Department and CDC guidelines to stay home,” says Minnesota Board on Aging Executive Director Kari Benson. “This will help prevent their exposure and infection.”

Benson says that the goal of the Minnesota Board on Aging is to prevent older adults from contracting COVID-19, especially those who have underlying health issues or who live in nursing homes and senior care facilities.

“There’s a stay-at-home order from the governor right now, which just shows how severe this virus is right now,” Benson says. “So we will be encouraging older adults to stay home not just during this order, but before and after it, too. It’s really important to follow these guidelines and keep yourself safe.”

Though staying home and far from others is crucial to reduce the spread of COVID-19, Benson says it can also be the most challenging part of this process for seniors.

“The challenge at this time is when we are in a full community stay-at-home mode, it can be quite challenging for older adults to get the help that they need,” she says. “Personal care, help around the house, prescription refills, etc. are difficult for older adults to have access to now.”

The Minnesota Board on Aging’s Senior LinkAge Line (1-800-333-2433), a toll-free number available from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, is a resource for seniors to use to determine ways they can get around this social distancing barrier.

“People are answering who can help seniors find services and resources in their communities wherever they are in the state,” Benson says. “Right now, they’re keeping up-to-date information as it changes as far as what resources are still available during COVID-19.”

As for loved ones of seniors, Benson says there’s a way for them to help during the isolating practice of social distancing, too.

“The most important piece is staying connected by phone if possible. Of course, communication can be done in the form of email, texting, social media, etc., but to have a phone call and just be able to talk to somebody is extremely important,” she says. “They might not be able to have the same interactions as before. They might have had a volunteer bringing them meals every day, and now they get frozen meals delivered a lot less frequently. Now they lack the personal connection. Regular phone calls are really, really important to help older adults feel more connected.”

Benson says phone calls can also serve as an opportunity to check in with older adults who can’t be visited during quarantine. Asking questions like “How are you doing?” or “Do you need any prescription refills or food?” can help seniors feel connected and less helpless in this desperate time.

Other ways to connect with older adults during social distancing are sending mail or even stopping by and communicating through the window (an increasingly common practice as seen on social media). If possible, Benson says it’s crucial for seniors to have access to a computer or tablet, not just to stay connected with family and friends, but for virtual doctor appointments.

For people living with older adults, Benson says the best thing to do is to simply get them out of the house.

“If they are at all able to get out of the house, even if they have mobility limitations, like they use a walker or wheelchair, etc., it is so important to get outside and get some fresh air,” Benson says. “Whether it’s a walk around the neighborhood or a drive to the park, or even just driving to places they used to go to a lot, that can help a lot during this time. Give them quality time together.”

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