When it comes to COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, older people are especially vulnerable to severe illness. Research is showing that adults 60 and older, particularly those with preexisting medical conditions, especially heart disease, lung disease, diabetes or cancer are more likely to have severe — even deadly — coronavirus infection than other age groups.

If you’re caring for an older loved one, you might be worried. Dr Alicia Arbaje, MPH, PhD specialises in internal medicine and geriatrics at Johns Hopkins Medicine. She shares what you need to know to keep elderly people safer, and what to do if they do become infected with COVID-19.

Negative Impact of Social Isolation

Arbaje says, “Physical distancing doesn’t have to mean isolation or loneliness. We need to keep older adults safe, but also keep in mind that social isolation can have a negative impact on older people’s immunity and mental health.”

She notes that in terms of social contacts, seniors should be encouraged to think beyond their usual circle of friends and family. “Saying hello to the mail carrier or checking in on neighbours close by can add to a sense of connectedness,” Arbaje says.

With many houses of worship closing their doors until the pandemic eases, congregants, especially older ones, may feel cut off. “Faith communities are often a big part of older adults’ social lives,” Arbaje says. Caregivers might help their loved one access online services and outreach for spiritual solace and support.”

Technology for Staying Connected

To help older adults feel involved, purposeful and less lonely during the pandemic:

• Show them how to video chat with others using smartphones, laptops or tablets.

• Use apps on these devices to provide captions for adults with hearing challenges.

• Encourage friends and family outside of your household to telephone, write notes or send cards to lift your loved one’s spirits.

• Keep elders involved

Think about going through and organising old photos and memorabilia together, and enjoy the stories and happy memories they inspire. It can be a good time for an elder to:

– demonstrate cooking a favourite family recipe

– share favourite songs or movies with other people in the household.