UPDATE: This article has been updated with new information on September 12, 2020, 6:00 a.m.
You keep hearing it over and over again: the elderly are most at-risk for developing serious or deadly complications from COVID-19. For some young people, this news may be comforting, but for millions of Americans who are caring for elderly loved ones, this update means it’s time to be proactive about protecting elderly or ill family members.
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COVID-19 has spread to all 50 states in the U.S. (plus Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C, US Virgin Islands and, Guam), and social distancing is the biggest way major cities are working to combat the crisis. Now’s the time to educate yourself, protect you and your loved ones, and spread facts — not misinformation. The biggest risk factors for COVID-19 complications include cardiovascular disease, lung disease, COPD, diabetes, and cancer. Unfortunately the older you are, the more likely it is that you have one of these conditions. Here’s how to protect and care for older family members in your life.
What Extra Precautions Should the Elderly Take?
Avoid mass gatherings — parades, sporting events, concerts, etc. — especially if you are elderly and fall in one of the high-risk categories. Many states have already implemented rules against this anyway. Don't leave the house unless you have to, and try opting for grocery delivery or only going out for supplies. Wear a face covering in public. In addition, those at high risk should avoid visiting with people who have acute respiratory illness (e.g., fever, cough, difficulty breathing). Practice social distancing of at least 6 feet apart when around others in public.
How to Protect Loved Ones Living In a Nursing Home or Assisted-Living Facility
The government recently issued new guidelines for nursing homes, in an effort to stop the spread of the virus. The goal: make sure sick people aren’t coming into these facilities. But it’s also worth it to check in with the facility and see what they're doing to keep everyone safe. Don’t be shy; ask if they are taking the proper precautions.
Should the Elderly Avoid Travel Entirely?
According to The Dr. Oz Show medical staff, the elderly should avoid public transportation during crowded times like rush hour. They may also want to think twice about long distance trips, which typically involve crowds and people from different communities that could increase risk.
Is My Seemingly Healthy Child, From a Closed School, At Risk to My Elderly Parents?
It's hard to say. Kids are not immune to the novel coronavirus, but their risk of developing serious complications from it is still low. They could potentially be carrying the novel coronavirus and not be sick, but we do not have a way of knowing at this time. Right now, it doesn't mean you can't take the kids to see grandma, but be sure to practice good hygiene. If you live in an area where you know there is community spread, you may want to consider more video chats with people at highest risk.
The goal now should be precaution: don’t wait to start taking preventative measures today. Limit travel and outside visitors as much as possible, and make sure to wipe down common areas and commonly used items. Treat this like another type of cold or flu. Most people even those at high risk will be fine, but if symptoms get bad, like shortness of breath, call your doctor right away. Don’t overlook light symptoms; make sure to stay in touch with your physician if your elderly relative’s health condition changes in any way.