AARPColumnists

Reimagine Everything: Understanding the Risk

By April 3, 2020 April 9th, 2020 No Comments

Erwin Tan, M.D.

In the face of the coronavirus outbreak, AARP is providing older people and those caring for them important information and resources to help protect themselves from the virus and prevent it from spreading to others. You can find AARP’s coronavirus resources online at www.aarp.org/coronavirus.

Age is an important – and potentially dangerous – factor in the era of the coronavirus.

Many older people are likely to have chronic medical conditions that can hinder the body’s ability to cope with and recover from illness. Possible risk factors for the virus progressing to severe illness may include, but are not limited to, older age (65 years or older) and underlying chronic medical conditions such as lung disease, cancer, heart failure, cerebrovascular disease, renal disease, liver disease, diabetes and immunocompromising conditions.

For this reason, current CDC guidance is for people age 60 and older and people with chronic medical conditions to avoid crowds. During a COVID-19 outbreak in their community, they should stay home as much as possible.

With these factors in mind, here are some actions everyone, particularly older individuals, can take.

Keep Your Regular Medications and Other Supplies Well-Stocked

Particularly given the vulnerability of older individuals and those with chronic conditions, the CDC recommends that we all have access to several weeks of medications and supplies in case we need to stay home.

Monitor food and other medical supplies needed and create a plan in the event such resources become depleted. For families, know what medications your loved one is taking and see if you can help them have extra on hand.

Stay Sanitized

Washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is a top recommendation, as is carrying sanitizing hand rubs for the times you can’t wash your hands. The CDC says to make sure your home and workplaces are clean and wiped with disinfectant regularly, with particular attention to electronics — now ubiquitous with people of all ages.

Respond to Multigenerational Living Situations

Households, like communities, may be multigenerational, with different people at different levels of risk residing under one roof. Households, therefore, will need to consider the risks of all its members.

One important consideration is that many older adults live in homes where other members, such as children, may have frequent colds. Families can institute changes now by not sharing personal items like food, water bottles and utensils.

If possible, choose a room in your home that can be used to separate sick household members from those who are healthy.

If possible, also choose a bathroom for the sick person to use.

Develop Intentional Caregiver Plans

Older adults may be caregivers or may receive care themselves. Caregivers and care recipients should discuss their preparation plans, including how to stay in touch via phone or email. Determine who can provide you with care if your caregiver gets sick.

Caregivers and their care recipients will need to work together to make sure they do not expose each other to COVID-19 in the event it has emerged in their community — or if either is already showing symptoms.

Communicate With Providers and Those Close to You

Now is the time to talk with the people who need to be included in your plan. You may need to ask for help if you become sick. Meet with household members, other relatives and friends to discuss your response should COVID-19 infections occur in your community.

If your neighborhood has a website or social media page, consider joining it to stay connected to neighbors, information and resources. People who live alone should have plans in place, even prior to the onset of any symptoms, for friends, family and health care providers to safely check on them and provide help if they do, in fact, develop symptoms or become sick.

Keep Abreast of Key, Up-to-Date Information

The situation with COVID-19 is rapidly changing. That means everyone should find and regularly check a trusted information source. In addition to the previously mentioned guidance for “People at Risk for Serious Illness from COVID-19,” the CDC’s website (www.cdc.gov) itself is a good resource, with such information as guidance on how to get your household ready for COVID-19. Another good information source is your state public health department website.

AARP has been working to promote the health and well being of older Americans for more than 60 years. In the face of this outbreak, AARP is providing information and resources (www.aarp.org/coronavirus) to help older people and those caring for them protect themselves from the virus and prevent it from spreading to others.

In the meantime, in this setting of well-founded concern, occasionally unfounded fears and rapidly evolving dynamics, it’s always important to remember your health basics for a strong mind and body: maintain a healthy lifestyle — and that includes engaging in moderate exercise, keeping a healthy diet and getting regular sleep.

Another resource to stay connected and informed is AARP Community Connections at https://aarpcommunityconnections.org.

Erwin Tan, MD, is a director at AARP Thought Leadership. His areas of expertise include geriatric and integrative medicine, health longevity, volunteering and perceptions of aging.