Voices: Helping the elderly during COVID-19

Category:  Opinions
Friday, April 10th, 2020 at 6:01 PM
Voices: Helping the elderly during COVID-19 by Courtney Balcombe
Photo: Edward Jenner | Pexels.com

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), older adults are at a higher risk for contracting the new virus, COVID-19. 

Comparing myself — a 21-year old college student that doesn’t have any pre-existing conditions — to my grandfather — Ron Gleason, a man in his 60s and with asthma — there’s certainly a difference in risk. His asthma makes it hard for him to breathe; it’s also allergy season, which makes his asthma worse. If he were to contract COVID-19, according to the CDC, the virus “can affect your respiratory tract (nose, throat, lungs), cause an asthma attack, and possibly lead to pneumonia and acute respiratory disease.” 

The CDC has an entire coronavirus guide for those with moderate to severe asthma.

First, I’m going to discuss some warning signs to look out for when it comes to visiting your love ones, either when you check in on them or do their shopping. 

Warning signs 

According to the CDC, the emergency warning signs for COVID-19 — which means you should get “medical attention immediately” — are as follows: 

  • Trouble breathing 

  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest 

  • New confusion or inability to stay awake 

  • Bluish lips or face 

Next, let’s look at the general ways we’re looking to limit the spread of COVID-19.  

Preventing the spread 

There are many ways to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, according to the CDC and other medical officials.  

  • Practice good hygiene by first washing your hands (at least 20 seconds) “especially after touching any frequently used item or surface.” 

  • Practice social distancing. Six feet between others when shopping or leaving the home for essential activities (essential as stated by your state regulations).   

  • Generally avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. 

  • Clean every day touched items. 

  • Wash laundry thoroughly. 

Pennsylvania’s current stay-at-home order can be found here, and is in effect until April 30. 

Say you do have to check in on elderly neighbors or family members, though. How do you keep them safe? 

Grocery shopping or cleaning 

To begin, I start by calling my grandfather every day to check with him to see if he needs something at his house. 

When he does need something, I drive over to his house and pick up his credit card and list of things he wants. When he doesn’t need anything, I ask if he wants stuff done at his house and go clean for him. 

Many of his needs tend to be groceries that I can easily find, but when he needs toilet paper ... it’s harder to find that. Almost every grocery store is out of toilet paper, along with some cleaning supplies (think cleaning wipes). 

“I’m used to having to do my own errands once a week,” said Gleason. “But now that I’m a higher risk, it’s nice to have you (my granddaughter) to do it.” 

I try to drop his groceries off on his front porch and then call him to let him know. When looking for CDC advice on food packaging that you bring into the home, they state: “If you are concerned about contamination of food or food packaging, wash your hands after handling food packaging, after removing food from the packaging, before you prepare food for eating and before you eat.” 

According to the Vox article, “How to be sanitary with the stuff you’re bringing into your home,” Don Schaffner, who is currently a food microbiology professor at Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, echoes the hand washing advice. He says to wash “your hands after returning from the grocery store, after putting groceries away, and before eating.” 

Find all food safety advice from the CDC, here. 

When I clean his house for him, I use a concentrated Lysol solution and a sponge designed only for cleaning things with that solution. It is important to do the CDC recommended cleaning: this includes door knobs, counter tops, and other items that are frequently touched. I make sure to also wipe down his fridge handles and water faucets since he touches those throughout the day. The CDC notes that different types of surfaces—porous, non-porous and electronics, for example—may require different EPA recommended cleaning solutions and materials. You can find their complete list of guidelines and recommendations here. 

I make sure to get him enough groceries to last him two weeks. This helps us limit our trips to the store. If and when he needs something during those two weeks, I try to order through online grocery shopping. 

Through online grocery shopping (like at Giant Eagle), an employee picks up the items on your grocery list, and then you pull up to the store and they load your car. This limits the amount of people you see and are exposed to at a given time. 

My aunt has been using a Q-tip when it comes to credit/debit card payment at the grocery store. When entering your pin or touching the buttons on the card reader, she uses the Q-tip to avoid touching the reader herself.  

When I do my grandparents’ errands, or even my own, I always wear a face mask in the grocery store and gloves. I maintain the required six feet between other people and myself. During a press briefing on April 3, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf recommended anyone that has to go out for essentials wear masks or face coverings. In the briefing, Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said, “Staying home is the most effective way to protect yourself and others against COVID-19, but, if you must go out because you are out of food or medication, then wearing a mask, or even a bandana across your nose and mouth, could be an extra layer of protection.” You can find the PA Dept. Of Health’s guide to universal masking, here. 

Special Accommodations 

For those older individuals who would still like to go out and do their own shopping, certain stores are offering special shopping times.  

  • Target, Wednesdays, 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. 

  • Walgreens, Tuesdays, 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. 

  • Walmart, Tuesdays, time unknown 

  • Dollar General, Wednesdays, 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. 

  • Tops Friendly Market, every day, 6 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. 

Keep up on the changing hours.  

Many of these stores are also limiting the number of certain items you can purchase, such as with toilet paper and cleaning products.  

Living Alone 

Some elderly, such as my grandparents, live alone. They might have family out of town, or they don’t have family who can visit them often enough to check in on them. Therefore, phone calls are something the elderly might look forward to with their loved ones. 

John Hopkins Medicine shared ways to use technology for staying connected. They offered these in order to help older adults feel involved, purposeful and less lonely during the pandemic: 

  • Show them how to video chat with others, using smartphones, laptops or tablets.  

  • Use apps on these devices to provide captions for adults with hearing challenges.  

  • Encourage friends and family outside of your household to call, write notes or send cards to lift your loved one’s spirits.  

My family is spread throughout the U.S. — an aunt in California, my uncle’s family in Ohio — while my immediate family and grandparents are in Erie. My grandparents love to hear from my uncle’s family in Ohio since they have a baby. My grandfather learned how Facebook Messenger worked so he could video chat with his baby grandson. 

“It’s one of the best times during the day,” he said. “To see my family online or in person.” 

Many video chat apps are available, with most basic features for free.  

  • Facebook Messenger: This app does allow you to set up a messaging account without a full Facebook account. 

  • WhatsApp: Allows for a group of four to video chat together. 

  • Skype: Provided through a Microsoft account and will allow up to 50 people to video chat together. 

  • FaceTime: Provided through Apple products such as the iPhone or iPad and allows up to 32 people to chat together. 

  • Line: If you have family in another country, this app will be perfect for you, even just for a vacation. This app allows up to four people to chat together and is free anywhere around the world. 

COVID-19 might be tough for the young, but it’s harder on the elderly. It prevents them from being dependent like they’re used to, even separating them from loved ones to keep them safe. 

Managing Stress 

Since older people are a higher risk for COVID-19, they may also have increased stress. The CDC offers some supportive ways to help manage stress during this time. Pass these tips on to your loved ones.  

Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to the news. Witnessing COVID-19 outbreaks in real time, for an extended time period, may increase stress. Try to meditate during those breaks, or try listening to something soothing. Continue to do activities you enjoy inside your home; even connecting with friends about your concerns may help. 

If you, or someone you care about, is still feeling overwhelmed with sadness, depression, or anxiety during this trying time, please call 911, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990, or the National Crisis Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. 

Tags: coronavirus

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