Helping Older Parents in the Age of COVID-19 -- By Sharon Burch
Older adults are at greater risk of requiring hospitalization or dying if they are diagnosed with COVID-19. In general, people ages 60 years and older are at higher risk for severe illness than people in their 40s, 50s, and younger. The greatest risk for severe illness from COVID-19 is among those aged 85 or older.
Other factors can also increase a person’s risk for severe illness, such as having certain underlying medical conditions. Adults of any age with the following conditions are at increased risk of severe illness from the virus that causes COVID-19:
Chronic kidney disease
COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
Heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant
Obesity and severe obesity
Sickle cell disease
Type 2 diabetes mellitus
By understanding the factors that put an older person at an increased risk, you and they can make decisions together about what kind of precautions to take.
If an older parent has an underlying medical condition, they should follow these tips:
Continue your medicines and do not change your medical plan without talking to your healthcare provider.
Talk to your healthcare provider, insurer, and pharmacist about getting an extra supply (i.e., more than 30 days) of prescription medicines, if possible, to reduce your trips to the pharmacy.
Do not delay getting emergency medical care because of COVID-19. Emergency departments have specific infection prevention plans to protect you from getting COVID-19.
Call your healthcare provider if you get sick and think you may have COVID-19. If you need emergency help, call 911 right away.
If you don’t have a healthcare provider, contact your nearest community health center or health department.
There is no way to ensure you have zero risk of getting the virus that causes COVID-19. So, it is important to understand the risks and know how to reduce them as much as possible. Make sure that people at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19, and those who live with them, are taking steps to protect themselves.
In general, the more people you interact with, the more closely you interact with them, and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of getting the virus that causes COVID-19.
Before your older parent goes out, she or he should consider the following:
How many people will you interact with?
Can you keep 6 feet of space between you and others?
Will you be outdoors or indoors?
What’s the length of time that you will be interacting with people?
How likely is it that people will be wearing a mask?
If possible, avoid activities where taking protective measures might be difficult, such as activities where social distancing can’t be maintained. If your older parent decides to engage in public activities they should:
Protect themselves by practicing everyday preventive actions.
Plan shopping trips when stores are typically less crowded: in the early morning or late in the evenings. Older adults can use “senior hours” when shopping.
Use alternatives to on-site dining such as delivery, take-out, and curbside pick-up.
Keep a mask, tissues, and a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol on hand and use them when venturing out.
Avoid others who are not wearing masks or ask others around you to wear masks.
Choose activities where physical distancing can be maintained such as physically distanced walks in the neighborhood or facility. Use technology (e.g. laptop, mobile devices) to keep in touch and play digital games with friends and family, or starting a new hobby.
Precautions for Nursing Homes and Senior Living Facilities
If your older parent lives in a nursing home, assisted living facility, or another type of senior living facility, you may be especially concerned about them contracting COVID-19.
To protect friends and family members in these facilities, the CDC has advised that long-term care facilities:
Require or recommend visitors, healthcare workers, aides, and staff wear masks over their nose and mouth, if visitors are even allowed
Permit visitation only during select hours and limit the number of visitors per resident
Schedule visitation in advance to enable continuous physical distancing
Restrict visitation to the resident’s room or another designated location at the facility
Regularly check healthcare workers and residents for fevers and symptoms
Limit activities within the facility to keep residents physically distanced from each other
You can learn more about the risks among people who live in nursing homes or long-term care facilities by visiting the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) website: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov
Help Your Older Parent Develop a Care Plan
Care plans can help reduce emergency room visits and hospitalizations and improve overall medical management for people with a chronic medical condition, resulting in a better quality of life. A care plan summarizes one’s
medical conditions and the medicines for each condition
end-of-life care options (advance directives)
During the COVID-19 pandemic, having a care plan is an important part of emergency preparedness. Complete your older parent’s care plan in consultation with their doctor, and help from a nurse or social worker who’s trained in this. The best practice is to update the care plan every year, or any time there is a change in health or medicine.
For more help in dealing with your older parents during COVID, see Sharon Burch, APRN, at the Atma Clinic: www.AtmaClinic.com/services. Your first visit is free, and you can reach us at 785/760-0695.