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Six Ways COVID-19 is Affecting Older Adults and What To Do About It

Jun 08 2020

By Alice Sevens

COVID-19 has turned our world upside down. From canceling travel plans, to finding empty shelves at the store, everyone has been affected by this crisis.

The wide ranging effects of COVID-19 have hit the most vulnerable members of our families and society, including seniors. I'll review six ways older adults have been affected by COVID-19 and what they and their caregivers can do to respond.

  • Loneliness;
  • Physical activity;
  • Grocery store and food access;
  • Healthcare;
  • Retirement funds and investments; and
  • Nursing home exposure risks.

Problem: Loneliness

As protective and beneficial as social distancing (now dubbed physical distancing) practices are, they can result in increased isolation and loneliness.

Loneliness can disrupt daily routines, like sleeping and eating. It can also have mental and physical health consequences. Because these effects aren't always as obvious as getting sick, older adults should take time to be self-aware; their loved ones also need to check in with them regularly.

Older adults:

If you're an older adult, call your friends and family. Even though finding a good time to connect can be hard, it's important to connect and communicate with loved ones.

It doesn't just have to be phone calls. If the weather's good and you're in a low-risk area, you may be able to have a picnic or go for a walk. You can maintain appropriate physical distance and spend time with loved ones in person.

Be creative when approaching your normal activities to ensure your safety. Some activities may carry more risk, so assessing the risk and what precautions you can take will help you continue your life while mitigating COVID-19 exposure.

Caregivers:

Spend extra time with the seniors in your life. Some of your normal activities can be adapted for social distancing with a little effort.

If your loved ones have difficulty with technology, take time to help them have a working understanding of tools like FaceTime, or whatever video chat you like to use. While video chat isn't the same as an in-person visit, it's better than a phone call.

A recent study by Benefytt found that "39 percent of respondents say their children are video chatting with their grandparents now more than ever."

Depending on the severity of COVID-19 in your area and your family's social distancing practices, you may be able to safely have in-person visits. Take more precautions with these but do them if possible.

Problem: Physical activity

Exercise is an important part of maintaining mobility and health. If you usually attended a class or went to a recreation center for exercise, you may find your typical routines are no longer possible. Even with gyms reopening in some areas, it may be more risk than you want to assume.

Older adults:

Luckily, you can keep your physical activity up by doing indoor exercises by yourself. You can use those exercise VHS tapes or DVDs you might still have or find videos on YouTube.

Depending on the rules in your area and neighborhood safety, you can also go outside for a walk around your neighborhood.

Caregivers:

Look up a few YouTube videos or find a few simple exercises you can share with the seniors in your life. If appropriate for your area, you could schedule times to go on walks together, which has the added benefit of combating loneliness.

Problem: Grocery store and food access

Overbuying and limits on necessities have only exacerbated existing food insecurity.

While panic shopping has decreased in most areas, you may still run into empty shelves or quantity limits. You may also deal with some of the lingering effects of panic buying, like debt from needing to purchase more expensive items because cheaper products were sold out.

Even though many states are starting to reopen the economy, the risk of Coronavirus spread still exists. Everyone goes to the store regularly, and the virus can be passed by people who don't have symptoms.

Older adults:

Look into grocery store pickup and delivery options. Many grocery stores offer these services and using them is a great way to reduce your exposure risk. If grocers charge extra for these services and you can't afford the additional cost, ask if they offer discounts or free delivery for seniors.

Alternatively, you can ask a neighbor or other family member to do your shopping for you.

If you prefer to go to the store to shop, take precautions. Check to see which stores in your area offer “Seniors Only” hours. Taking advantage of these times and choosing stores that require patrons to wear masks will help lower your exposure risk. It's also recommended to get in and out of the store as quickly as possible.

Caregivers:

Volunteer to run errands and grocery shop for the seniors in your life. Be sure to take reasonable precautions like wearing a mask when you drop off the groceries.

Plan to spend some extra time chatting after dropping off groceries. Regularly running errands for your seniors can also help prevent loneliness if you make time for a visit each time.

Problem: Healthcare

Many areas have put a hold on non-emergency medical care and doctor visits. Seniors have also been affected by these changes. In many cases, these adjustments aren't a big deal.

According to the Benefytt study, "Twenty-three percent of respondents said they know someone on Medicare who has tried telemedicine." It's hard to say how much telemedicine use has increased among older adults. However, telemedicine makes it possible to have non-emergency visits and get simple diagnoses without needing to go to a clinic or hospital. In some cases, you'll need to have an in-person visit.

Even though hospitals are accepting and treating COVID-19 patients, you should still seek medical care if you have a medical emergency. Many hospitals and clinics are taking precautions, like using hand sanitizer, screening patients before entry, and keeping COVID-19 patients separate from non-COVID-19 patients.

Older adults:

If you have a non-emergency medical question, don't feel well or have seen recent changes in an existing condition, don't hesitate to call your doctor. They can answer your questions and give medical advice over the phone. While it isn't the same as an in-person visit, your doctor should be able to let you know during your conversation whether or not an in-person visit is necessary.

Alternatively, you can use telemedicine services. In fact, your doctor may use a telemedicine app that enables you to have a virtual visit through video chat. Again, telemedicine has similar limitations to phone calls, but the advantage is that there's a visual. You don't have to describe your rash you can just show the doctor what it looks like.

Before you use telemedicine from a smartphone, check to see if your insurer is already contracted with an app and if your doctor uses it. You should also make sure that the app has HIPAA-compliant security to ensure that your health information is protected.

If you need immediate medical attention, don't hesitate to go to the emergency room or call 911. Hospitals are taking all the precautions they can to limit the exposure of non-COVID-19 patients to COVID-19.

Caregivers:

Help your seniors download a telemedicine app to their phones and learn how to use it so that they can have virtual visits with their doctor if needed. Or, you may have to help them set-up appropriate video conferencing from their computer. Again, double-check to make sure that the software or app you use has HIPAA-compliant security.

Realize that hospitals are restricting visits and people accompanying patients to the hospital as part of their COVID-19 protocols. Understand the hospital's guidelines and be prepared to advocate for your seniors as necessary. Will the doctors and nurses update you over the phone? How frequently will they give you updates? Can your senior advocate for themselves? Remember that you'll need to have the right legal standing or permissions to receive someone else's health information.

Problem: Retirement funds and investments

Investments have been hit hard by the economic fallout of COVID-19. Younger generations can play the waiting game while recovery is underway. However, seniors may find they need to adjust retirement plans and budgets in response to the downturn.

Older adults:

You're likely already receiving Social Security benefits, but there are other social programs available to help. You may qualify for SNAP benefits or combined Medicaid and Medicare coverage.

If you're able and interested in working, you can look into part time work. Look for opportunities online, you may even be able to find some remote jobs. If you're crafty, you can make money by selling cross-stitch, knit scarves, art, etc. on marketplaces like Etsy. Depending on the kind of employment you're pursuing, you may want to wait until the pandemic is over.

If you own a home, you can also consider running an Airbnb or renting a room to a tenant. Talk to people who've done these things in the past to ensure that you get the lease right. Take appropriate precautions to protect your health. It can be better to have a long-term tenant than host travelers several times a month.

Look for ways to cut your expenses. Do you need cable TV and subscriptions to streaming services? Does it make sense to sell your current home and move into a smaller one? If needed, could you live with your children or nieces and nephews?

Caregivers:

You may need to have a frank conversation about finances with your parents. This can help you understand what help they may need and how you can help.

These can be difficult conversations to have. Lynn Morrison's article "How to Talk to Your Parents About Their Changing Retirement Plans" offers helpful advice on shaping these conversations constructively.

For example, the article recommends that sharing information about your finances and long-term plans can be a good starting point because it helps put you and your parents on equal footing. Then, asking how their emergency financial preparation and planning for the short term and long term will give you a sense of their overall financial position.

Problem: Nursing home exposure risks

Nursing homes have become epicenters for COVID-19 outbreaks, which is especially concerning for anyone living in a retirement home and their relatives because older populations are a high-risk group.

Older adults:

You should know what precautions your care center is taking. Are employees wearing masks? How are group activities being adjusted for safety? What's the contingency plan if someone catches the virus? What are the new protocols for seeing visitors? Will your facility accept COVID-19 outpatients?

Caregivers:

You also need to know the steps that the retirement home is taking to protect residents. Ask the same questions included in the section above to determine how safe the retirement home is.

You should also consider the following questions: Does everyone live in the same building? How is the air circulated?

If you have concerns, voice them to the director.

You may also want to consider moving your senior home with you. If you are considering this change, know you're not alone. The recent Benefytt study found that 23 percent of people were considering moving a senior relative home from a retirement home.

Weigh the pros and cons carefully. If you decide to take on home care, you'll need to consider whether or not a home care nurse needs to regularly visit and the risks that can pose. You'll also assume more care responsibility, so you'll need to be prepared to take on those additional responsibilities.

Alice Stevens has managed the life and health insurance content for Best Company since 2018. She’s passionate about conducting good research and understanding the details you need to know about insurance. When she's not writing and researching, she enjoys good food and travel.