The stay-at-home mandates resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic will have a lasting impact on how we approach dangerous illnesses and public health. Long-term solutions will need to be implemented to keep susceptible people safe from future outbreaks. We will also need new tools and processes to support our family members when quarantining is required to avoid illness.
Adults 65 years and older are particularly vulnerable to serious cases of the new coronavirus, as well as other illnesses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost 22% of noninstitutionalized people aged 65 or older in the U.S. are considered to be in either “fair” or “poor” health.
Keeping older adults healthy and secure in their homes requires a set of long-term solutions and practices. Some of these practices are relatively straightforward, such as placing emergency phone numbers in easy-to-find locations or preventing falls by clearing walkways and installing hand rails. Other measures that can help include providing loved ones with a regular caretaker, updating their home security systems with newer technologies, and empowering them with easy ways to communicate with loved ones.
These precautions will be especially important to prepare older family members for times when they need to stay at home — a recommendation that is likely to happen more and more often.
This guide provides long-term solutions for keeping loved ones safe while at home, including how to cope with increased stress and feelings of isolation, preparations for maintaining a safe home environment, and tips for family and caregivers who are providing support from afar.
Coping with Stress While in Quarantine
Anyone who must stay inside for longer periods than normal can experience increased psychological stress. This stress can be compounded during a quarantine situation, when feelings of anxiety related to disease, as well as stress related to financial concerns, can make matters worse.
According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in March 2020, nearly one-in-five adults (18%) said they’d had a physical reaction when thinking about the coronavirus outbreak. Meanwhile, the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation says anxiety generally affects as many 10% to 20% percent of the older population.
There are simple ways to combat fear and anxiety, however. Here are a few best practices:
Regular breaks and positive routines
Whether your loved ones are working from home or not, they need to take regular breaks during the day. A “break” can be described as a brief respite from work, physical exertion, or any other type of physical or mental activity, such as doing household chores.
Taking a break can help older adults avoid becoming fatigued both mentally and physically. In fact, results from one study indicate that even brief diversions from a task can greatly improve focus.
Hobbies and pastimes are also an important part of creating a positive routine. In one study of older adults, researchers concluded that “having hobbies and PIL (purpose in life) may extend not only longevity, but also healthy life expectancy.”
Hobbies like the following all have positive effects:
- Home improvement
- Sewing, knitting, and crocheting
- Model building
- Doing jigsaw and word puzzles
If you or a loved one are quarantined, find a hobby that can be done safely indoors or one that you can enjoy outdoors while away from other people.
Care for your body
Most people recognize how important it is to take care of their physical health by eating healthy meals and exercising. There are even direct links to exercise and stress reduction. It helps the brain produce endorphins and improves your mood.
While older adults may not be able to move as vigorously as their younger counterparts, there are still plenty of physical exercises that can help reduce stress. Yoga and meditation are accessible to older adults. There are yoga poses you can do while sitting in a chair, and research suggests that meditation can reduce anxiety and depression.
Other physical activities older adults can safely do in quarantine include:
- Walking (while social distancing)
- Aerobic exercise
- Tai chi
- Lifting small hand weights
- Riding a stationary bicycle
Even dancing can provide physical exercise.
Contact loved ones regularly
Staying connected with loved ones and talking to people you trust about your feelings is an important part of maintaining one’s mental and physical health. According to the National Institute on Aging, “Research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions: blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, and Alzheimer’s disease,” among others.
There are more tools than ever to help people stay connected during a quarantine. In 2017, 80% of adults over the age of 65 had a cellphone of some kind, and 42% owned a smartphone.
The issue is usability rather than availability. Many older adults own technology, but they may not know how to use it effectively.
When teaching older loved ones how to use a new device or communication platform, follow these tips:
- Be patient, and never condescend
- Don’t use acronyms or jargon
- Accommodate physical limitations (like poor eyesight)
- Let them try themselves
- Encourage confidence
According to a study published in Healthcare of older adults and their adoption of technology, “Frustration appeared to be a significant barrier, which led to a lack of self-confidence and motivation to pursue using the technology.” If you can overcome this barrier, it will be easier for your loved ones to learn new ways to communicate.
You should also consider teaching loved ones how to use different communication platforms, such as social media, text messaging, email, and even video communication tools.
Preparations to Stay Safe While in Quarantine
As staying home for long periods becomes more common, it will be important for older adults and others to create a home environment that is as healthy and safe as possible. Although there is no need to take extreme precautions, having a plan in place for a quarantine can prevent dangers and difficulties down the road.
First, ensure you or your loved ones have enough supplies to last into the near future. You’ll need to obtain more supplies at some point, so stay aware of local ordinances for when and where you can shop when needed.
You can also consider using food and grocery delivery services so there’s no need to go to the store. More grocery stores are delivering supplies than ever before, either themselves or through third-party providers. Additionally, meal kit services can deliver fresh food regularly.
You’ll need to take precautions to stay safe from illness. It’s more likely for illnesses to be transmitted person-to-person, and the United States Postal Service says, “The likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low.” However, it’s still recommended that you follow the following techniques to ensure safe delivery:
- Ask delivery services for contactless drop-offs
- Ask delivery drivers to wear a mask and gloves
- Provide delivery drivers with instructions for drop-offs
- Wash hands for 20 seconds after a delivery
- Avoid touching your face after a delivery
- Tip drivers digitally, not with cash
If you’re caring for an older loved one, you can safely drop off supplies by following these practices, too.
Along with household supplies, you should also ensure you or your loved one has a lasting supply of medications — enough for several weeks. Some medication refills require a consultation or strict refill dates, but some of these restrictions may be eased during a public health emergency. You can also explore mail-order prescriptions that may be available through your health care provider or insurance plan.
Contact your health care provider to discuss your options for obtaining extra medications.
Consider adjusting your living situation
Quarantining for a long time may require you or a loved one to change your living situation. Older adults may be better situated living with their adult children, with a caretaker, or moving into an assisted living community.
Being in proximity to a loved one or caretaker can decrease the chances of an older person falling and injuring themselves. It also provides them more opportunities to have their needs met and may reduce stress and anxiety.
Prepare for emergencies
It’s important for older adults to always have easy access to emergency numbers, including the numbers of loved ones or caretakers. If you or your loved one has any type of home automation tool, such as Amazon’s Echo, they’ll have easier access to help in case of emergencies. Once set up, all they have to do is speak to the device.
To use Amazon’s onboard AI, Alexa, to reach emergency services, simply do the following:
- Plug in the device to an outlet near your modem or phone jack
- Plug the device into your telephone jack using a splitter
- Add the device to your Alexa app on your smartphone using the “Add Device” feature
Once you’ve completed these steps, you can ask your device to call 911. It will transfer the call through your home phone system or smartphone.
Older adults hoping to maintain their independence can also use telehealth services to speak with health care professionals. This prevents them from having to go into an office for a visit.
Telehealth consultations can be conducted by phone or by video services, and most clinics will adapt to provide telehealth services during a quarantine situation. Speak to your health care provider to learn if they provide telehealth services.
Secure the home
You should also take steps to ensure you or your loved one is safe at home, as they may be isolated for some time.
Ensure the home security system is in working order. Keep windows and doors locked when not in use. Ensure you or your loved one has a first-aid kit that is fully stocked with supplies. You can also encourage them to keep lights on at night to discourage theft and burglary.
If you need to install home security, do so to allow for monitoring in and outside of the home. Outdoor cameras can act as a deterrent against burglars and indoor cameras and sensors can monitor common areas. Ensure your loved ones have access to these systems and know how to use them for further precaution.
If you don’t know the neighbors already, now is the perfect time to get to know them. Encourage everyone in the community to look out for each other. Neighbors can act as an extra set of eyes, and they’ll know who should and shouldn’t be frequenting the home.
Remove falling hazards
Falls are the leading cause of injuries for older adults. According to the National Council on Aging, one in four Americans over the age of 65 falls each year.
Arrange the home in a way that encourages safe movement from room to room. This may require you to move or fully remove furniture, area rugs, light fixtures, and other hazards. If you have small children, ensure they clean up toys and other hazards regularly.
Health factors like poor mobility and environmental triggers, such as a dog pulling strongly on a leash, can also lead to falls. Take time to move through the home and identify potential risks. Then, make changes to reduce the chances of a fall.
If you or your loved one needs help doing chores around the house or in the yard, ensure they know who to contact to get help. They shouldn’t take on any high-risk physical activities, like climbing a ladder to clean a gutter, while alone.
You should also consider adding home automation tools to the home. In-home personal assistants like Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa can allow for quicker and easier access to care in case their is a fall. You don’t need an expensive device to do this, either. Siri is available on iPhone, and you can call emergency numbers through an iPhone without having to unlock it manually.
Tips for Family and Caregivers Providing Support
If you are taking care of an older adult while quarantining, here are some tips for how you can best support them:
Set up devices for your loved ones
If you’re providing support to a loved one who needs help with technology, there are a few things you can do now to make them more capable during a quarantine. Your goal should be to empower them as much as possible. As you look at the long term, digital solutions can provide more options for older adults to stay connected and reach out for help.
To make using technology easier, set up devices like smartphones, computers, and tablets for them in advance.
Ensure the devices are connected to either an internet or cellular network so they can use them quickly and easily. Install any apps, programs, or games they’ll need while they are in quarantine, and provide them with all the login information they need to obtain access.
Apps like FaceTime, WhatsApp, Zoom, and Facebook Messenger provide easy ways to communicate with family and friends, and popular mobile games like Words with Friends, Heads Up, and Scrabble can keep loved ones connected and having fun together.
Keep a log of supplies and medications
Stay aware of which medications they need and are taking. Do what you can to ensure they have an extra supply of medications on hand. For example, if it is difficult for them to speak to providers or to visit the pharmacy, you could do this on their behalf.
You should also monitor their stock of food and medical supplies, such as oxygen, incontinence, or home hemodialysis supplies. Create a back-up plan in case their supply runs out and make a habit not to wait until supplies are empty to replenish them. For food, ensure they are well-stocked with non-perishable items to minimize the need for trips to the grocery store, or to limit food delivery needs to only fresh items.
Monitor outbreak risks
If you care for a loved one living in a care facility, ask about the health of the other residents frequently and know the protocol if there is an outbreak. It can also help to monitor the outbreak status of your local community. Stay aware of announcements from local authorities.
Send care packages and keep in touch
There’s nothing better than receiving a call or a care packaged form a loved one. Your care package could include necessary items like toilet paper or thoughtful items that let them know they’re not alone.
Frequent calls will help you keep your loved one’s spirits up. They will also serve as a way for you to get updates on their status and health.
Keep Your Loved Ones Safe and Healthy
Living through quarantine is difficult and stressful for everyone, but older adults are more vulnerable than others. Long-term measures and precautions are necessary. By following the steps above, you’ll be able to ensure your needs, or your family member’s needs, are met to ensure a healthy, safe and positive time spent at home.
Here are some additional resources that can help: