The coronavirus pandemic sweeping through the UK and the world has hit the elderly and the most vulnerable in society hardest – these groups are more likely to be severely affected by the virus but are also at risk of being isolated as friends and family are advised to stay away.
Isolation and loneliness are already at epidemic levels among the elderly, with Age UK estimating that around two million people in England over the age of 75 live alone and – shockingly – more than a million people go for over a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or family member. Brits have no clue when the enforced lockdown will be over and normal life will resume. The unknown is triggering anxiety across the nation, particularly among the elderly. More than half of people aged 75 and over live alone and will be spending the next few months stuck indoors with no company. So how can you help the elderly during this lonely time? The Health Secretary has said that people over the age of 70 should self-isolate for up to four months to help protect themselves from coronavirus.
As many fear the UK lockdown could cause a surge in loneliness, here are ways you can help an older friend, neighbour or relative during self-isolation.
Can I visit my elderly parents? Under new Government rules, if you do not live with your elderly relatives in the same household then you must not visit them in another household.
As of March 23, people in the UK have been told to stay at home and only leave the house for these four reasons:
- Shopping for necessities
- Once a day for exercise
- Medical need or providing care
- Travelling to or from work (if you can’t work from home)
Public Health England (PHE) says that people with coronavirus symptoms – dry cough, fever, and a general feeling of listlessness – should especially avoid seeing older relatives to avoid passing it on, regardless of whether they have had a test for the disease or not.
How vulnerable are elderly if they catch coronavirus?
Data from China on the first 44,000 patients with the virus shows that the death rate in those aged 80 and over is nearly 15 per cent and eight per cent among those aged 70 to 79.
What can you practically do to help an elderly person?
1.Create an emergency plan
If you’re caring for someone and are worried what will happen if you are unable to visit make sure you have a contingency plan in place, says Carers UK. This is something you should have set up, coronavirus or no coronavirus, but it should detail the medication the person you’re caring for is on, important contact numbers and who can step in when the main carer is unwell.
2.Avoid the GP if you have symptoms
Anyone who has symptoms should stay away from the GP, hospital or pharmacy to prevent further spread of the disease. Instead they should check the NHS coronavirus webpage. The chief medical officer, Sir Chris Whitty, says people should not call the NHS on 111 as the line is so busy – they should only call it if directed to do so when they go through the online symptom checker.
3.Check whether pharmacies can deliver medicines
Many pharmacies around the country have already begun delivering medication to elderly people during self-isolation.
Contact your GP or local pharmacy for more advice on home medication deliveries.
4. Stay active. The elderly can also be active within their capacity.
Sir Muir Gray says it’s paramount anyone stuck at home stays active.
“Even just standing up 10 times an hour is good exercise,” he says. Encourage older people to just keep moving. During this worrying time it is easy for the older people to stay put in bed.
However, the importance of them to keep moving cannot be stressed enough.
“Older people can be helped to feel more positive if they engage with the world and stay active. Don’t lock them up and try to protect them,” he says.
“It depends on your personal situation but if you’ve got a big garden you can get out in that. If you’re stuck indoors make sure you get up and don’t sit in front of the television all day,” he says.
5. Embrace the internet
Introduce the older person to the internet and open up a whole new world
However, older people are increasingly getting online – data from the Office for National Statistics show that 83 per cent of people aged 65 to 74 had used the internet in 2019, up from 52 per cent in 2011. In fact, the growth in internet use in older age groups is outstripping that in younger age groups.
It may be worth ensuring that the older people in your life are set up with online shopping accounts now or have been introduced to the joys of Netflix.
It’s also worth checking that they know how to go through the NHS symptom checker – or, can ask someone to help them if not.
6. Make sure carers wash their hands.
In fact anyone who visits an older person should wash their hands before and after they visit.
7 Keep the mind active of the elderly person by keeping in touch, give them a purpose. A phone call itself is an activity. Talk to them regularly. You could even make ‘appointments ‘ to give them something to look forward to.
8. Face time video calling – another type of interaction to keep their mind occupied and also is a good not perfect ,way of seeing each other .
9. Write letters. Let’s get back to basics. Nothing can beat a good letter. Regular letters can help keep the elderly person up to date with what is going on in the family and keep them abreast of changes happening in the news etc.
10. Still many elderly people are not great with social media and many do not have a mobile phone. Introduce them to Whatsapp or messaging .The internet on a laptop. There are many devices available at the moment that are designed to be used by the elderly, for example with big screens, loud ring tones, large keyboard.
11. Puzzles and wordsearches can provide hours of pleasure and help pass the time.
12. Reading -this has been found to slow down the onset of dementia and improve memory. Try to bring new and varied books to the elderly person regularly. I have found a page magnifier which help my mother to see the words more clearly.