Disclaimer: At UPMC HealthBeat, we strive to provide the most up-to-date facts in our stories when we publish them. We also make updates to our content as information changes. However, education about COVID-19 can shift quickly based on new data, emerging variants, or other factors. The information in this story was accurate as of its publish date. We also encourage you to visit other reliable websites for updated information, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and your state and local governments.
As the country reopens, COVID-19 incidence rates among the elderly remain high. And caregivers worried about the risks wonder: Is it safe for Dad to see his doctor again? Should Mom stay home or see her specialist?
The answers are not always clear — and they can change daily as new information comes to light. But for caregivers of seniors, these concerns weigh heavily.
Here’s what you need to know about caring for an elderly loved one during the time of COVID-19.
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COVID-19 Challenges and Complications for Seniors
You’ve likely heard that COVID-19 is a disease that generally has more serious implications for older adults. The duration of illness tends to be longer, and they often experience more debilitating symptoms, like extreme fatigue, pain, and high fevers. There’s also a greater chance of being hospitalized, ending up in the ICU (intensive care unit), or dying from complications of COVID-19.
Have a referral from your doctor? Schedule your appointment online now at UPMC Urgent Care.
According to CDC, age itself is a risk factor for severe illness. People in their 60s and 70s are at higher risk for severe illness than those in their 50s. And adults ages 85 and older are at the greatest risk for severe illness from COVID-19, per the CDC. Roughly 80% of COVID-19 deaths so far have been in people 65 and older.
Certain health conditions — such as diabetes, heart disease, and respiratory problems — make people more likely to experience serious complications from COVID-19. As many older adults have these kinds of underlying health conditions, it increases their risk and vulnerability to COVID-19.
For seniors with dementia or memory loss, hospitalizations — especially in the ICU — can be very disorienting and may increase confusion. Even attending health care appointments during the time of COVID-19 may be disorienting due to the unfamiliar protocols.
When to See the Doctor and When to Stay Home
Connections to a care network can be life-sustaining for seniors with chronic illnesses. Seniors with cancer still need treatment and some surgeries cannot be delayed.
Still, caregivers worry about the safety of their loved ones. Is the risk of COVID-19 greater than the risk of skipping that overdue procedure? Consider these tips:
Communication is key.
Stay in touch with your loved one’s doctor regularly. The provider and their team can advise you on when to stay home and when to come in. They can also assure you of the care facility’s safety practices if they recommend an in-person appointment.
Schedule virtual visits whenever possible.
Video chat technology makes it possible to share concerns without worrying about infectious diseases. Check with the primary care provider to determine what types of appointments can be done virtually. This will minimize COVID-19 risk while maintaining ongoing access to needed care.
Remember the importance of preventative care.
Seniors with cancer still need treatments, and some surgeries cannot be delayed. Again, talk to your loved one’s health care provider to determine what’s best.
10 Ways Caregivers Can Help Seniors Stay Safe
There’s never been a more stressful time to be a caregiver. But there’s still a lot you can do to keep your loved ones safe during the time of COVID-19.
- Wear a mask. Encourage senior loved ones to wear a mask whenever they leave the house. Keep masks in the car and near the main door of their home for easy access.
- Be smart about social contact. If visitors do come, make sure the visitor and your senior loved one(s) wear a mask and maintain a safe distance.
- Whenever possible, entertain visitors outdoors. If anyone is not feeling well— either the visitor or the older adult — postpone the visit.
- Stay home when sick. If your senior loved one is not feeling well, encourage them to stay home — even if they’re not showing any symptoms related to COVID-19.
- Wash, wash, wash. Practice regular, thorough hand-washing, and encourage all visitors to do the same.
- Keep things clean. Ensure access to easy-to-use sanitizing products, like disinfectant wipes, and a good supply of antibacterial soap and hand sanitizer.
- Assist with errands. Offer to pick up prescriptions and groceries, or help them set up a mail delivery or curbside pick-up service.
- Check-in regularly by video chat. Phone calls and texts are fine too, but it’s important to see them face-to-face if you’re caring from a distance. Watch for signs and symptoms that may warrant a call to the doctor.
- Help them facilitate connections with friends and family through technology. Many seniors struggled with isolation and loneliness before COVID-19. Now that in-person visits are being limited, it’s still important for your senior loved ones to stay connected.
- Be ready for an emergency. Keep vital medical information for your senior loved one with you at all times. Have a bag packed should your aging parent be required to stay somewhere overnight for observation. If at any point your loved one experiences the following serious medical symptoms of COVID-19, call 911 or head to the ER:
- Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath;
- Difficulty speaking;
- Sudden face drooping;
- Chest or upper abdominal pressure or pain;
- Any sudden or severe pain;
- Uncontrolled bleeding; or
- Severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea.
How UPMC Is Keeping Elderly Patients Safe
From access to virtual visits to safety procedures for cleaner facilities, UPMC is doing its part to keep seniors and their caregivers safe.
Safety measures include:
- Screening patients for COVID-19 symptoms and exposure before entry.
- Ensuring staff has enough personal protective equipment.
- Restricting visitors and volunteers.
- Requiring all patients, staff, and essential guests to wear face masks in public areas.
- Rigorous cleaning with hospital-based disinfectants.
Learn more about UPMC’s ongoing commitment to COVID-19 safety here.
UPMC geriatric medicine seeks to enhance the lives of older adults through clinical care and research. We are nationally recognized for our expertise; our multidisciplinary team specializes in care for seniors. We diagnose and treat a wide variety of conditions affecting seniors, including medical, physical, cognitive, psychological, and social. Our hope is to provide the best care in people’s later years. We can help on an inpatient or outpatient basis, for short-term or long-term conditions.