The elderly and COVID-19
WE NEED to take special care of our older adults, especially during the pandemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) explains that “ageing results from the impact of the accumulation of a wide variety of molecular and cellular damage over time. This leads to a gradual decrease in physical and mental capacity, and a growing risk of disease.”
There is also “healthy ageing”, which the WHO further describes as “creating the environments and opportunities that enable people to be and do what they value throughout their lives”. This is why we have and should have institutions and policies in place to help the elderly cope with various challenges.
The ease of transmission of COVID-19 has created a difficult situation particularly for older adults. They are also most at risk for serious illness from the virus because of the weakening of their body’s immune system based on the natural ageing process, lifestyle diseases, and other social and economic factors. In a recent article, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that “getting very sick means that older adults with COVID-19 might need hospitalisation, intensive care, or a ventilator to help them breathe, or they might even die. The risk increases for people in their 50s and increases in 60s, 70s, and 80s. People 85 and older are the most likely to get very sick.”
There are also reports of older adults experiencing extreme anxiety during the pandemic due to lockdowns or isolation, job security, loss of relatives, and other stressors.
So, what strategies can we use to support this vulnerable group?
REDUCING RISKS OF GETTING INFECTED
Older adults and their caregivers are encouraged to take various actions to decrease the risk of becoming infected with the COVID-19 virus. This includes effective infection prevention and control methods such as physical distancing at least six feet apart, washing hands often, getting vaccinated, wearing masks, avoiding travel and crowded spaces when possible.
Mental well-being is also very important for older adults, especially now. While physical distancing is critical to prevent COVID-19 infections, isolation can increase negative effects on the body. In a Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine report, one associate professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine noted that “physical distancing doesn’t have to mean isolation. 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.” Modes of engagement can range from digital communication and activities to delivering groceries at the door while following the safety protocols, and drive-by conversations or behind the door or window.
The elderly are also encouraged to increase activities that will contribute to their overall well-being. This means having a balanced diet, staying physically active, if possible, and embracing telemedicine or other methods to continue receiving healthcare from their doctors if needed.
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