Protect older friends and relations from viruses: here's how

Simple, practical ways to help keep the elderly safe during the coronavirus pandemic.

Updated

adult hands holding elderly hands

Coronavirus prevention is all the more important when it comes to the elderly population as they are the most at risk (people over 65 are generally regarded as an “older person”, according to the NHS). Whether it’s older relatives, friends or neighbours, we all have a part to play in helping to keep them safe. Here are six tips to help protect and support seniors.

1. Protect yourself from the coronavirus

Before coming into contact with elderly people, you want to make sure you are implementing effective coronavirus transmission precautions yourself. Though it is often repeated, the advice given by the NHS and other health bodies is to frequently wash your hands. Use plenty of soap and water for at least 20 seconds at a time. If you are coughing or sneezing, then use tissues and dispose of them hygienically in a bin; if you’re out, then turn your face towards your sleeve (don’t cough into your hands). Avoid touching your face, as that is an easy way to become infected. Urge your elderly friends and relatives to start a hygiene routine as a coronavirus prevention measure.

2. Make sure they have enough provisions

Older people should stay away from crowds – the government is asking those who are particularly vulnerable (the over 70s) to stay at home for 12 weeks – so think about ways to help with the shopping. Make sure the elderly person in your life has all the necessary hygiene supplies and food they need for at least two weeks, and longer if possible. You could also look into ways food could be delivered and help arrange online orders.

Don’t forget to check that they have a good stock of all the medications they need, or find out whether the local chemist is able to deliver prescriptions. Make a contingency plan in case you or other carers fall ill and are unable to help – for example, see whether there is a reliable neighbour you could call on.

3. Decide whether you should be visiting

Firstly, reduce social interaction as much as possible – so don’t bring the grandchildren visiting. If you think you may have been exposed to the coronavirus or are experiencing symptoms, then you should stay away too. If you are sick and live with an elderly person, then try to find somewhere for them to live for 14 days.

As difficult as it may be, even if you are healthy you might want to think about limiting visits to essential purposes only. The less you expose the elderly to contamination risk, the better. If you are in the company of an older person, ensure that you have been washing your hands (see above) and then keep your distance – at least three feet apart. You’ll need to put a hiatus on the hugging and kissing for now.

4. Check with care homes or hospitals before visiting

Some facilities as well as hospitals are requesting only essential visits, so check beforehand. It’s also possible that a care home may be restricting outside entertainers, exercise classes and other activities, so agree on ways to stay in touch with your friend/relative (see below for ways to communicate).

5. Keep in touch as much as possible

Under these circumstances, isolation is a real risk for older people, so be proactive about phoning, writing, sending emails or text messages, or maybe arranging a video call. You can help set them up with a TV streaming service, recommend some podcasts to help combat loneliness, or play games online with them. There are also online support groups available. Make sure they have plenty of pictures of their loved ones around as a reminder of the people in their life. (The mental health charity Mind has more advice on coronavirus and mental health here.)

6. Encourage them to be active

The routines of older people are likely to be affected, especially if they need to stay at home for 12 weeks as a coronavirus prevention measure. If that’s the case, doctors emphasise that staying active is important, whether that’s performing light physio work, chair exercises or even doing some cleaning around the home. Getting regular fresh air is also beneficial, so urge seniors to take a walk around the garden whenever possible.

Originally published