Taking care of elders during the pandemic
When the order came to “stay-at-home” many of the parents of adult children were instructed to shelter in place, make their shopping lists, and the kids would go to make the purchases. And so, like all the other older parents, she and her husband did as their children asked.
But the isolation has gone on for such a long while. One daughter makes masks and provided for her parents. Last weekend , though, she said to the husband, “Be patient with me today. I have to step out of my comfort zone.” He knows how concerned she has been about “going out there” into the perceived battle zone.
“Maybe you should stay home,” he suggested.
“I’m not going to let fear rule me,” she snapped back. “The first step is the hardest. We’ll start at the dollar store so I can get my feet wet, then we’ll go to the grocery store.”
It was a little intimidating to cover her face with a mask. It also makes lip-reading a little difficult, she thought. But it was OK when she saw others wearing face coverings. Everyone doesn’t wear them. She doesn’t particularly like them, but until she knows enough about this virus to be assured her loved ones are safe, she will wear the mask.
It is not in a state of panic that we address this issue with older countians. We are closing out Older Americans Month 2020 focusing on older adults who present COVID-19 differently than younger people. Age changes how our bodies respond to illness and infection, says the Kaiser Family Foundation. If the early signs are not detected and the elderly do not get the treatment they need, the outcome is more likely to be negative. And worse, undetected they may not follow the protection suggested through face masks, hand washing, and so on, thus spreading the virus.
First responders may not be wearing their protective gear when they are called to a person’s home. If the vital signs are normal, they may decide nothing is wrong when, in fact, they are looking at the virus.. The elderly may look like a trauma patient when that person may actually have COVID-19. Other signs suggested by KFF: they may become dehydrated and weak. When they stand up they collapse. They may become profoundly disoriented, unable to speak or be thought to have had a stroke.
“The changes,” according to the KFF white paper, “are a central nervous system effect of the virus.”
So, if you are a higher risk person, how are you supposed to handle your business of daily living … shopping for groceries and other supplies, banking, fueling your car at the gas station, doctor visits, picking up prescriptions from the pharmacy? Too much time for thinking … or over-thinking, depressed because you’ve been struggling already with loss of a loved one, grieving. (One in five suicides in 2018 were older adults in the United States. More than 80 percent of them were among males.) Isolation is bad for social beings – which humans are.
First, if you are sick, stay home. Or if you think you are showing symptoms, stay home and call your health care provider. Do what that provider tells you. You aren’t sure what you should do? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a Self Checker Guide to help you with the decision making at www.cdc.gov search “What to do if you are sick” to find it.
Some stores have special hours designated for higher risk folks. Avoid shopping at busier times. Use online or curbside shopping. When you have to go out, use hand sanitizer and when you get home, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. (Yes, it takes 20 seconds to wash the germs off of your hands. They are pesky little things.) Practice the recommended protection measures.
There is a lot of good information at the CDC website Taking care of the most vulnerable is the goal. Our elderly are a national treasure worthy of protection. And if you feel like you just can’t deal with everything alone, reach out for someone to help you pull yourself through. As the saying goes, “We are in this together.”
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