COVID-19 Care Considerations
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COVID-19 Update: Click here for more information on senior safety.

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We are living in unprecedented times. COVID-19, or the Coronavirus, is changing how we live daily. Let’s begin with what this virus is and then delve into the specifics of how you can protect yourselves and how home care can help.

What is COVID-19?

According to the World Health Organization “Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.”

The symptoms are not unlike the common cold with fever, cough, and shortness of breath. However, not everyone has all of these symptoms. Most people recover after about two weeks. Other, more compromised, individuals can develop severe problems breathing requiring hospitalization.

How the Virus Spreads and Why Seniors are Most at Risk

Understanding how the virus spreads not only protects you, but it protects others. At this time, there is no vaccine at this time for the virus. Through mandatory social distancing, the virus slows and doesn’t overwhelm the health care system.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, this is what we currently know about how the disease spreads:

  • Person-to-person. At this point, it is believed that a 6-foot radius is the distance that the virus can spread.
  • Respiratory droplets. This means if an infected person is within 6 feet of you and coughs or sneezes, these droplets may reach you.
  • Contaminated surfaces. If an infected person touches a surface and then you touch that surface, you are at risk for infection. This is why the CDC is recommending that people not touch their faces.

Why seniors are at risk. Many seniors have compromised immune systems, other chronic diseases or are otherwise medically unstable. This makes them vulnerable to complications and even death from the virus.

How the Virus Affects Assisted Living Communities

Assisted living communities are at particular risk for spread of the virus. Many cities across the country are banning groups of more than 100 people. In assisted living communities, there are large groups of people, especially in dining areas. Other risk factors include:

  • Residents of assisted living needing medical care. The unique characteristic of assisted living communities is that everyone is older. Most people have medical needs that require going to outside health providers. Outside travel of any kind greatly increases the risk of exposure to the virus.
  • Visitation restrictions. Most assisted living communities have instituted very restrictive visitation criteria. No family can visit and only medical professionals or caregivers are allowed to visit residents.
  • Restrictions on all activities. Assisted living communities across the country have canceled all group activities and transportation. Only medically necessary trips are authorized.
  • Safety protocols are difficult to enforce. With hundreds of people living in close quarters, it can be a challenge to enforce the CDC recommendations. This can increase the likelihood of the virus spreading. Recommended protocols are washing your hands for 20 seconds every time you leave your apartment and come back, making sure you sneeze into your elbow, and quarantining yourself if you are ill.

Why Home Care can be a Viable Alternative

Home care has several advantages during this challenging time. Home care companies have greater control over safety protocols. An excellent example of how home care companies are keeping caregivers and their clients safe can be found here.

How Home Caregiving Promotes Social Distancing

Social distancing is the critical idea that staying away from other people is the best way to keep from getting the virus yourself. Going outside into the community increases the likelihood you could come into contact with the virus.

This is where the real value of home caregiving comes in. By following safety protocols, caregivers can affectively allow vulnerable seniors to safely quarantine.

  • Caregivers can do grocery or other shopping. This allows older adults to stay home and avoid crowds at grocery or department stores.
  • Caregivers can go out to get medications. Caregivers can go to the pharmacy to pick up or renew medications.
  • Help with bill paying and banking. Caregivers can go to the bank to deposit checks or assist with other banking needs. They can make certain bills are being paid on time.
  • Setting up video chat options for telehealth or family communication. With social distancing requirements, physicians are requiring patients to take advantage of telehealth options. Caregivers can assist with setting this up and accessing care. Also, being away from friends and family can be hard. If an older adult has a computer or smartphone, caregivers can assist with technologies such as Skype to stay in contact.
  • Companionship and activities. Being confined to home can get lonely. Having a caregiver for companionship and stimulating activities can be invaluable. During this anxious time, a caregiver can bring a sense of calm and stability.

As we find ourselves in uncharted territory, safety dominates our everyday lives. The new normal is attention to infection control protocols that need to be followed every hour of every day. Private caregivers are the link that keeps people safe while attending to their needs.

About the Author(s)

Amanda Lambert is the owner and president of Lambert Care Management, LLC which provides care management for older and disabled adults. She is the co-author of, Aging with Care: Your Guide to Hiring and Managing Caregivers at Home (Rowman and Littlefield, 2018). She has worked for over 20 years in the senior-related industry including mental health, marketing and guardianship. She has a passion for topics related to health, wellness and resilience as we age.

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