Are you missing face-to-face chats with grandma, grandpa, mom, dad, or your older neighbors? While nothing can replace those conversations (or a really good hug), there is a special reason to stay at least six feet from anyone over 65 as we work together to stop COVID-19.
The reason: Older people, and people of any age with chronic health conditions, are, so far, the sickest when they contract the virus. And they are the most likely to end up in an ICU on a ventilator.
But while we’re keeping our distance to keep them healthy, it’s still important to find new ways to carry on relationships with the senior citizens in our lives. So what can we do—especially if someone we love lives in a retirement community or care center?
We posed that question, and a few more, to Dr. Amy R. Wooldridge, who specializes in geriatric and internal medicine. She’s one of the few who is currently cleared to enter senior communities—wearing a mask, answering screening questions, and logging her temperature each time she visits patients.
Q: Why can’t the public go inside retirement centers to see loved ones right now?
A: In a facility like that, it’s the visitors and the healthcare personnel who are going to be the most likely source of introducing the virus into the facility. So limiting potential contacts is the most important thing. These are obviously very frail and vulnerable people, and in that kind of a setting, respiratory illnesses can spread very quickly.
It’s actually the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that is recommending aggressive visitor restrictions—it’s a recommendation for the whole country.
Q: Could we have a few tips on how to make sure they know we’re thinking of them?
A: Yes, you don’t want them to feel isolated or lonely. A few ideas:
- Video chatting. If they don’t have a phone or tablet, you can ask the retirement center staff for help. I think retirement centers are trying to help residents do that as much as they can.
- Handwritten cards or letters are more special now than ever.
- On the news, we’ve seen people waving through the windows (but that’s easier to do if your family member’s room is on the first floor).
- Drop things off. If you’re loved one likes crossword puzzles, for example, take a book of those.
- If your loved one is confused or can’t communicate, you can keep in touch with the nursing staff and get updates.
Q: What about friends and family who still live at home?
A: Try not to go inside. We’re trying to stay away from people as much as we can. If your elderly parent or grandparent is at home, try to make sure they stay there. Try not to even go to medical appointments if it isn’t an emergency—and there’s a lot you can do over the phone. Have someone get their groceries. They do need to get some fresh air sometimes, so encourage them to go out in their yard every once in a while.
And if someone must visit them in person, make it just one person and, of course, observe all the hygiene guidelines, including wearing a mask, hand washing (for 20 seconds) with soap and water, and using hand sanitizer.
Q: What should we do if an older person has a doctor’s appointment?
A: Because of COVID-19, doctor’s offices are seeing only patients with appointments who can’t be rescheduled. So if it can be rescheduled, that’s the best option. But there are some illnesses that can’t wait. If you do need to take someone to the doctor, here are a few tips:
- Call ahead so you’ll know the protocol. Doctors’ offices aren’t using waiting rooms right now, so the procedures are different from what people are used to.
- Expect to wait in your car when you arrive at the doctor’s office. The office staff will meet you at your car and walk the patient in when it’s time to be seen.
- Don’t expect to go into the doctor’s office with your friend or family member: Right now, they are not allowing visitors.
Q: How can we help seniors stay as positive as possible until we get COVID-19 stopped?
A: I think all of us are really worried about depression getting worse during this time. People are not able to follow their usual routines, so it’s a tough one. A couple of ways to help:
- Stay in touch as much as possible, even if it’s just calling them more frequently. Older people really need that. They need socialization: It’s important for their moods and cognitive functioning.
- Look for online church services, or other options like that, for them.
We’re in this together.
One of the most important things we can do as we navigate this virus is to keep the needs of the older people in our lives in mind. Because when we help anyone during this time, we’re helping everyone else, too!
Dr. Amy R. Wooldridge specializes in geriatric and internal medicine. Her office at Hancock Internal Medicine is at 1 Memorial Square, Suite 2200, Greenfield, can be contacted at 317-462-5544. And to learn more about COVID-19 and how to help stop it, please visit hancockregionalhospital.org/coronavirus/.