Looking after older people during the pandemic

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Health Assured team

29 May 2020

While it’s difficult enough to look out for yourself during the pandemic, it’s doubly difficult if you’re an older person. You’re more vulnerable to the virus, and you might not have the same support networks as other. 

Luckily, there are lots of simple ways you can make life a little easier. Whether you’re staying safe as an older person yourself, or are looking out of an elder friend or relative, these are the things you need to consider. 

Who is most at risk? 

According to what we know about the virus so far, the older you are, the more at risk you are. Particularly, those aged over 70 are most at risk. But anyone with an underlying health condition affecting the respiratory or immune system—which is statistically more likely the older you are—is vulnerable. 

So, those aged 70—and those aged 50+ with an underlying health condition—really ought to stay indoors, even with the relaxing of lockdown rules in some regions. While social distancing is proving effective at flattening the curve, it’s not a perfect solution, and the virus can still propagate.  

What should I do if an older person displays symptoms? 

First of alldon’t panic.  

It’s important to remain calm, so as not to worry anyone else. For most people, the symptoms are minor—a bit like the flu—and the same actions should be taken as a flu dose. Plenty of rest, lots of water, and paracetamol if needed. 

But if the symptoms get worse—say, breathing becomes difficult—or stay for longer than seven days, call 111 and notify the NHS.  

As well as this, remember that the person affected needs to isolate. This is so as not to spread the infection.  They need to remain indoors as much as possible, wash their hands often and maintain distancing with the people they do see. 

How should an older person practice self-isolation? 

There are some differences in the guidance for isolation for older people. 

Even before the lockdown, the government recommended that people over 70 self-isolated in their own homes for 12 weeks, with the exception of leaving for exercise and allowing essential visits. 

Really, older people should stick to this, even now. They should avoid trips to public spaces such as shops, the chemist and the GP surgery. Instead they should have someone else go and drop supplies off in a secure place for them to collect. They should avoid contact with people unless absolutely necessary. 

How can I help an older person who is isolating? 

There are risks of other harm arising from isolation. Chief among them is the risk of mental health issues—loneliness is already common among older people, and being forced to remain indoors for 12 weeks is only going to make that worse.  

Make sure they have a support network and regular contact. The telephone is a vital tool for this—but even better, if the person has internet access, is a tablet with video calling abilities. This might not be practical—technology and the elderly can be a difficult pairing—but if it’s doable, don’t hesitate. 

Arrange a call at a regular time every day, say 3pm. Get into that habit and routine—that way, if there’s no answer at that time, that might be an indicator that they need your help. 

If you absolutely need to visit, there are a few guidelines to follow to minimise potential infection: 

  • Remove outer garments, such as your coat and shoes, immediately upon arrival 
  • Maintain a distance of at least two metres (where possible) from your relative 
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before, during and after your visit 

Other than this, you can offer to get their shopping, and leave it outside at an arranged time. You can offer to manage bills, finances and other concerns. But the most important thing is to stay calm, and stay in touch. 

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