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COVID-19 and Seniors—What You Need to Know
As we continue to learn more about the spread of COVID-19 (the new coronavirus), it’s becoming clear that this devastating illness is hitting older adults and people with underlying health conditions the hardest. In fact, they are at higher risk for severe illness—8 out of 10 deaths reported in the U.S. have been in adults 65 years and older.
The new virus has caused an outbreak of respiratory illnesses worldwide. COVID-19 usually spreads from close person-to-person contact through respiratory droplets from coughing or sneezing. It may also spread through airborne transmission when tiny droplets remain in the air even after the ill person leaves the area.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), older people and those with underlying health conditions are twice as likely to develop serious outcomes vs. otherwise younger, healthier people. As your immune system ages, it becomes harder for the body to fight off diseases and infection. Those with underlying conditions, like heart disease and diabetes, also find it harder for the body to cope and recover from illness. If you have certain health conditions, be especially careful to avoid exposure to COVID-19.
Know the Symptoms of COVID-19
Symptoms may develop within 14 days of exposure to the illness. Only designated laboratory tests can diagnose COVID-19. Common symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- And, in rare cases, severe respiratory problems, kidney failure, or death
If you develop emergency warning signs, get medical attention immediately. These include:
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion or inability to awaken
- Bluish lips or face
How to Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones
According to researchers, the greatest risk of infection is among those who are in close contact with people who have COVID-19. This may include family members, friends, or healthcare workers. There is currently no vaccine to prevent coronavirus. If you’re a senior or a caregiver of a senior more susceptible to illness, please consider these steps to protect yourself.
- Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly using soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.
- Cough or sneeze into a tissue or elbow, then throw the tissue away in the trash.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid crowds and close contact with people who are sick, sneezing, or coughing.
- Always stay at home when you are sick.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects people frequently touch.
- Only wear a face mask if you have respiratory symptoms or are caring for someone with respiratory symptoms.
- Know what’s happening locally in your area.
- Pay attention to recommendations from your local public health department and the CDC.
- Make sure you have adequate supplies of routine medications, including those for blood pressure and diabetes, and household supplies should you need to quarantine at home.
- While restrictions on visits are in place, keep in touch with your loved ones remotely through email, Facetime, or Skype.
- Avoid all cruise travel and non-essential air travel.
Additionally, if you’re a caregiver of a senior, there are a few things you should know to keep your loved one healthy and safe.
- Keep yourself well. Be sure to follow all precautions you can to avoid becoming infected yourself.
- Practice social distance but not social isolation. Limit in-person visits and consider online resources, for houses of worship, for example.
- Teach your senior loved ones how to use technology to stay connected and feel less lonely. Show them how to use video chat, apps that provide captions for adults with hearing challenges, and encourage friends and family to call, write notes, or send cards to lift their spirits.
- Keep your homebound loved ones involved by giving them household chores, projects, or hobbies to enjoy.
- Postpone unnecessary doctor’s visits and avoid travel.
- Have a plan, in case they become sick. Pick an emergency contact, stock up on necessities, and talk things through ahead of time to reduce stress and uncertainty.
Fear and anxiety about the COVID-19 pandemic can be overwhelming and stressful. If you or your loved one are experiencing strong emotions related to the COVID-19 outbreak, there are a few things you can do to support yourself:
- Take breaks from watching or reading the news and social media. It’s okay to distance yourself from hearing about the pandemic if it’s upsetting to you.
- Nourish your body. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly if you are able, and get plenty of sleep.
- Make time for activities you enjoy. Unwind.
- Connect with loved ones—don’t be afraid to discuss how you’re feeling with people you know and trust.
- Call your healthcare provider if the stress becomes overwhelming or unmanageable.
- If you or your loved one are feeling extreme sadness, depression, or anxiety, or want to hurt yourself or others, call 9-1-1 or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990.
What to Do If You or Your Loved One Experiences COVID-19 Symptoms
If you or your loved one has traveled outside the U.S. in the past 28 days, have a fever, cough, or shortness of breath, or had recent contact with someone with fever, cough, or shortness of breath, tell a nurse, doctor, or healthcare professional immediately.
Stay home except to get medical care, and separate yourself from other people in your home, if you are able. Always call ahead before visiting your doctor, wear a facemask if you are sick, cover your coughs and sneezes, clean your hands often, and avoid sharing personal household items. In all cases, always follow the guidance of your healthcare provider and local health department.