Covid-19 & Older Adults

March 29, 2020

After decades of independence, many older adults may be having trouble with the COVID-19 restriction of self-isolation. It’s hard for many to stay home or to depend upon someone else to help. But, it is a life-saving measure.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC, older adults, ages 65 and older, are at higher risk for COVID-19 and at a higher risk for complications from the virus.
“It is a known fact that the immune system gets compromised as we age,” Dr. Deepak Garg, Infectious Disease physician at Penn Highlands Healthcare, said. 

“Older adults are more susceptible to get anything. They are more susceptible to get infections and more susceptible to complications,” he said.

Another known fact, he added, is that “most of the COVID-19 deaths are the elderly population.” Eight of ten deaths reported in the U.S. have been adults age 65 and older, according to the CDC.
“Staying home may be difficult, but staying out of public areas can keep you away from the virus,” Garg said. 

He suggests:
• Asking someone who is willing and not high risk (under age 60) to pick up your needed items from the store and leave them on your door step.
• Using home delivery or outside pickup. If you don’t know if it is offered, call and ask. Many stores are making changes daily to accommodate their customers.
• Order online. If you do order items from an online company, keep your cardboard boxes outside for 48 hours, if possible, and do not open them until after those two days have passed. COVID-19 can live on cardboard, and some mail order company boxes have had COVID-19 on them. 

If these suggestions do not work, decide what is most important. “Don’t go out when it is not necessary, and if you must go out, keep six feet between you and the next person at all times,” Garg said.  Some stores are offering “senior citizen” hours when the store is first open and clean. Wipe any cart handles you use. Stores should be providing wipes.

For older adults, it may be hard to stay home. “From the day we are born, we are taught to do things for ourselves,” according to Richard Nenneau, MSW, Service Line Director for Behavioral Health Services at Penn Highlands Healthcare.

“As we age, keeping our independence is important to our self-worth,” he said. “Living with little or no help is a way to feel some control in life. Our bodies change as we age, and our lives change around us. This is the time people retire, and that change is huge. Spouses and friends may be gone or going through illness. Independence is often a way to feel like something is still stable.”
Everyone wants to be independent as long as possible. And as we start to lose our independence, we can feel depressed. 

“But with COVID-19, asking for help should not be a concern or a negative,” Nenneau said. “This is temporary, and no one should feel bad about accepting help. We need everyone to stay home and stay healthy. If you don’t do it for yourself, do it for those you love, for the others around you and for your community.”

And remember, wash your hands regularly. Use soap and water for at least 20 seconds each time, and don’t re-touch the faucet. If you can use an elbow to shut it off, do so, or maybe use the paper towel you just dried your hands with. Be careful not to touch things someone else did, especially in public restrooms, but also in your own home. If you just turned on the faucet with dirty hands, the germs are still lingering on the handle.

Disinfect items and household areas touched often, and anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19 - cough, fever, sore throat and shortness of breath - should call for a free verbal screening through their primary care provider offices, or they may call the PHH Call Center at 814-375-6644. From that phone call, the process starts to determine if a test should be performed.