A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

3 ways you can help older adults social distance

How to talk to older adults about COVID-19 and social distancing.

Older adults are most at risk for having serious COVID-19 complications. In order to stay safe, it’s essential for senior citizens to social distance.

Editor’s note: This article was published on April 20, 2020. COVID-19 information and recommendations are subject to change. For the most up-to-date information, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website or view our most recent COVID-19 blog posts.

Adults over 65 years of age are most at risk for having serious complications from novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). In order to help keep loved ones safe, it is essential for senior citizens to stay at home and practice proper social distancing.

Younger family members and friends can have a major impact by discussing the risks and helping make life at home easier. Dr. Thomas Gabert, a Marshfield Clinic Health System internal medicine physician, provided some important tips below.

How can you approach the conversation?

Talking about the importance of social distancing can be difficult with your elderly loved one. When approaching it, Gabert recommends being honest and listening to their own past experiences.

“You should always begin with an honest sharing of emotions and the reasons for the need to not have close contact,” Gabert said. “Talk to them about their childhood where they may have lived in rural areas with limited contact and invite them to share stories of their past. Re-assure them that you will stay in contact in other ways.”

The American Association of Retired Persons and Centers for Disease Control are great resources to offer if your loved one is looking for additional information.

What can you do to help?

Younger family members or friends can do a couple of key things to help make social distancing easier for those most at-risk.

Communicate regularly

Gabert noted that technology can be a great way to stay busy and check in on each other’s well-being.

Whether it’s through video chat, text message or email, there are many ways to stay in touch virtually. “Many elders can learn to use apps or computer programs such as Skype or Google Hangouts,” Gabert said. “Google even connects through an email attachment.”

Help with chores and shopping

When your senior loved ones need groceries or other important items, you can volunteer to go shopping for them. Gabert said it is common for families to leave the groceries in the elders garage or porch.

“These items can be wiped down and then the elders should wash their hands when the items are put away,” he said. “This prevents close human contact and removes potential virus from the materials.”

What about when going out in public is necessary?

If your at-risk family member absolutely must go out in public during this time, Gabert said you should always have a plan that includes minimizing close contact with others, wearing a mask and washing hands consistently.

If the visit is a medical appointment, alternative methods are available that do not involve putting oneself at risk.

“Our Marshfield Clinic providers are available to review the risks of delaying a visit,” Gabert said. “Some patients on active treatment or multiple medications need laboratory tests. But in many cases, an annual evaluation of a chronic problem such as thyroid disease can be moved 3-4 months without a risk.”

Marshfield Clinic Health System provides telehealth visits, both over the phone and through video to help meet patient needs during this time.

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