Almost a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of the new coronavirus on older adults is clear. The older you are, the more vulnerable you are to severe disease, including hospitalization, ventilator use, and death. In fact, 8 out of 10 people who have died from the virus have been age 65 or older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The continued threat of the virus, especially as the vaccine rollout moves slowly, means that many older adults should continue to stay home and avoid interaction with others as much as possible. Naturally, this creates challenges for their adult children who want to help care for them and make sure that they are staying healthy.
By now, we all know the importance of washing hands frequently, wearing masks, and keeping at least a distance of six feet from others. Your elderly parent likely knows these tips as well and hopefully follows them. Beyond those basics, here are several more tips on how to care for an elderly parent during the continued COVID-19 pandemic.
1. Emphasize physical activity
Exercise has a multitude of health benefits no matter what age we are. When you speak with your older parent, ask if he or she is staying physically active, at least as much as they can barring any doctor-ordered restrictions. Remind them that it’s still OK to take walks outside and if cold weather or other reasons prohibit that, there are still physical activity options inside, including on-demand fitness videos, walking around the house, gentle stretches or yoga, and even dancing. They just need to crank up the tunes!
One bonus of regular physical activity: It can improve their balance and reduce the risk for falls, which occur annually in one in four seniors, according to the National Council on Aging.
2. Don’t ignore non-COVID health problems
Unfortunately, there are people who have suffered serious health consequences through the pandemic because they haven’t sought help for non-COVID health problems. If your older parent complains of a health problem that doesn’t appear to be virus related, encourage them to still reach out to their doctor, or do so yourself on their behalf. With the growth of telemedicine, they may be able to get help without leaving the home. Plus, the coronavirus is associated with a wide range of symptoms, so you never know if a certain new health malady could be the virus in disguise.
3. Do some advance emergency planning
Let’s say your elderly parent falls and requires regular help at home, either during a recovery period or permanently. You live far away or you can’t attend to your parent regularly due to your work. You must quickly find trustworthy home care. This situation is all too real for many people, and it is always stressful.
One way to help minimize that stress is to vet potential home care companies in advance. Do research online. Ask around with any local contacts to find out which companies are licensed and reliable. Learn what their limitations are. For instance, some businesses focus on helping with daily activities such as bathing, eating, and light household chores, while others focus more on medical care. As you zero in on a company or two that you like, ask what safety protocols they are taking during the pandemic. By doing this research, if your loved one ever needed help, you would know who to call.
4. Keep them social
One unfortunate consequence of the pandemic’s self-isolation is that many older adults are suffering from loneliness. You probably already check in regularly with your older loved one to say hi and make sure they are doing OK, but it would be helpful, especially now, to find other ways to keep them socially stimulated, especially if they must stay at home for a prolonged period. AARP has a Friendly Voice program where volunteers sign up to check in regularly with someone via a phone call. Some local nonprofits for older adults have similar programs. An app called Papa provides companionship and help with everyday tasks, although it is geared toward in-person contact. If your loved one has an interest in learning about a certain subject, consider helping them find an online class where they can connect with likeminded others.
5. Use technology to your advantage
With so many technology options available nowadays, you have several ways to monitor your elderly parent from a distance. Here are just a few ideas:
- Get your parent a smartphone or tablet on the same platform that you use. That will make it easier to handle technical concerns and communicate with each other.
- Use features to keep tabs. For instance, a new feature from Amazon’s Alexa called Care Hub allows family members to receive a daily notification when their loved one first interacts with the Amazon Echo smart speaker. This requires both parties to have an Amazon account. You can also use the speaker to “drop in” and say hi.
- Have them use a wearable medical device that can notify emergency responders of a fall.
- Use smart pill dispensers that let you know when medications have and haven’t been used.
- Look into virtual courses that can help your loved one learn how to use certain technology. Nonprofits such as Older Adults Technology Services has moved its courses online.
6. Get the scoop on COVID-19 vaccines
The coronavirus vaccines are 95% effective in helping to prevent someone from getting the virus. However, vaccine rollout has been inconsistent among states. If your older parent lives independently, inquire about local vaccine availability. The vaccines are going quickly in some areas, so find out what you can do to help get your loved one’s name on the list to get the vaccine when it’s available to them.