March 30, 2020

The spread of the coronavirus, also called COVID-19, has been a difficult and uncertain time for millions of people around the world. As of right now, the health stakes of this disease are particularly high for the elderly — and for the family caregivers who love and support them.  

As writer Lisa Esposito explains in U.S. News & World Report: 

“Normal aging of the immune system and underlying medical conditions make people 60 and up more vulnerable to severe respiratory illness from COVID-19. Although most people who are infected with the coronavirus only have a mild case that feels like a common cold, others can become very sick.”

The spread of the coronavirus helps to illuminate the very real need to care for our elders, especially in times of crisis. In an emergency situation or a disaster, it is incredibly important to check in on the senior adults in your life, including your loved ones and neighbors. 

Why Seniors Are More Vulnerable In Emergency Situations

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has explained, older adults are more vulnerable than younger adults during disaster situations — ranging from intense storms, to blizzards, to heat waves, to pandemics. 

As the CDC notes, older adults are more likely to: 

“…have impaired physical mobility, diminished sensory awareness, chronic health conditions, or social and economic limitations that interfere with their ability to prepare for disasters and to respond and adapt during such events.”

A Harris Poll from 2005, cited by the CDC, found that 13 million people aged 50 and older said that “they would need help to evacuate during a disaster,” and half of this group “would need help from someone outside their household.”

As they spread throughout the community, coronavirus and other sources of illness pose a unique risk to older adults. Like influenza, this new virus can impact seniors’ respiratory systems, leading to a severe infection. Beyond the physical effects, illnesses like COVID-19 — and some of its forebears, such as SARS and H1N1 — can have a ripple effect that is also more impactful to older adults. 

For example, seniors may become isolated or socially cut-off during emergency situations, leading them to feel frightened, alone, and vulnerable. It can also be more difficult for seniors to get access to food, medications, cleaning agents, and other supplies they need.

Many older adults deal with mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, which can be exacerbated by the onslaught of news stories and information that swirl up around a disaster or emergency situation. Changes to a routine, no matter how small, can also be difficult for many older adults, particularly those who may be living with a condition such as dementia or chronic physical pain

Caring for Seniors During an Emergency: What You Can Do to Help

As the legendary television personality Fred Rogers once put it: 

“Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” 

While difficult and abnormal situations can feel frightening, there will always be examples of people coming together and helping one another out. In many situations, you can be the helper, and make an enormous difference for an older adult who may need some extra attention and assistance. 

Whether you’re a family caregiver looking to provide for your elderly loved one, or simply a Good Samaritan working to protect your community, here are a few ways to help care for seniors during difficult times: 

Check In When and How You Can

One of the most important ways you can help a senior is to be present for them, in whatever way possible. If you have elderly neighbors, check in to say hello and ask if they need anything. If you have senior loved ones who don’t live nearby, call or email to let them know that you’re thinking of them, and see if there’s anything you can do to help out remotely. Even just a few minutes of conversation and a warm smile can make all the difference. Helping seniors to feel socially connected during a difficult time can help manage feelings of stress and anxiety, and can help promote positive health benefits to boot. 

At the same time, use these “check-ins” as wellness visits, particularly in a difficult period — such as the days after a storm or during an extended quarantine. Keep an eye out for changes to the senior’s appearance and living conditions, and don’t hesitate to reach out for help if you feel that the senior needs care above what you can provide on your own There are lots of resources out there that can help in an emergency, from local businesses, to charities and service organizations, to state and federal relief agencies. 

Remember to be safe. If you’re worried about spreading viruses and germs, for instance, maintain a safe social distance and try to connect digitally when possible. In troublesome weather, keep an eye on the forecast and reach out when you can.

Help Seniors Stay Active

Difficult situations can be stressful and intimidating — but they can also bring on days full of boredom and restlessness. This is particularly true for older adults, who may find their daily routines interrupted. Local shops, churches, gyms, senior centers, and schools all may close, cutting seniors off from the places they go to be social. At the same time, older adults may not be able to go out for walks around the block, or work in the backyard. 

Find ways to keep the elderly adults in your life engaged and active. Encourage seniors to find some gentle ways to get moving indoors, or bring over puzzles, books, and games to keep them entertained. A sudden influx of free time can also be a wonderful opportunity to pick up a new hobby or reconnect with an old one, like knitting, painting, playing an instrument, or learning a new language. 

Drop Off Food and Supplies

Older adults are often the hardest hit when an emergency situation arises, particularly those who are housebound or who have limited mobility. 

Before a storm, natural disaster, or quarantine, work with your elderly family members to come up with an emergency preparedness plan. This will typically include creating a stockpile of non-perishable foods, cleaning supplies, batteries, first aid supplies, and other essentials. The CDC has more important guidelines for preparing older adults for an emergency, available here. 

If you have elderly loved ones who live nearby — or even friends and neighbors who may need some assistance — be sure to check on them regularly. If it’s possible, try to help them replenish the household items they need, including food and cleaning supplies. When necessary, help older adults connect with food banks and disaster relief agencies, who help provide supplies to vulnerable people free of charge. 

Lend a Helping Hand

In the early days of the coronavirus, lots of stories emerged from New York City, all about apartment neighbors pitching in to sanitize surfaces and clean common areas for the benefit of the older adults who lived in the building. 

In an emergency or disaster, the smallest steps can have the biggest impact. Look for ways to help out your friends and neighbors who may be housebound or have difficulty getting around. Some simple, meaningful ideas may include: 

  • Helping to shovel snow and clear away ice during a blizzard or cold snap 
  • Clearing away fallen branches and other debris following a storm 
  • Cleaning common areas in condo and apartment buildings during an outbreak
  • Offering rides to the pharmacy or grocery store, when needed
  • Dropping off thoughtful cards and care packages

Have Any More Questions? Companions for Seniors Is Here to Help

Want to talk about other ways to help prepare your elderly loved ones for a potential emergency situation?  Need to connect with local resources, but not sure where to start? Curious about the benefits of in-home care and aging in place for older adults? 

We’re always here and ready to help. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with Companions for Seniors whenever you want to discuss the best plan of action for yourself and your elderly family.

At Companions for Seniors, our mission is to help seniors live independently and with dignity in the comfort of their own home by empowering them to lead an active and enriched lifestyle, connecting them with their community, and nurturing meaningful relationships.

Our companions are trained and bonded, and can help provide a variety of services designed to help seniors remain in the comfort of their own homes, including providing assistance with housekeeping, activities of daily living (ADLs), driving services, and more.

We’re here to offer guidance and provide support, in whatever way we can. Get in touch online using our handy online portal, or give us a call at 866-910-9020 today.