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How To Protect Senior Citizens From The COVID-19 Pandemic

Dr. Pragnya Rao

It is important to take special precautionary measures & extend the best care to the elderly.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the healthcare community together in contribution to various research programs to develop faster testing kits, explore treatment options and promote recovery- most important of all being the need to urge citizens to practice social distancing and self-quarantine. 

However, since it is a well-established fact that senior citizens are a higher risk of developing this severe infection, we need to provide extra care and attention to keep them safe during these testing times. 

“Caregiving will never be one-size-fits-all.” 

                                 ― Nancy L. Kriseman

It is extremely important to give special attention to their diet, mental health and needs, which stands doubled if they have any co-existing health problems like diabetes, hypertension, stroke amongst others. 

We can play our part in this battle against the coronavirus, by taking special precautionary measures and extending the best care for senior citizens.

Social distancing in the fight against coronavirus

It is important to educate our senior citizens on how social distancing can immensely help in preventing the spread of the virus as well as in reducing the burden on hospitals and healthcare facilities.

  • Tell your elders to stay at home. You can help them by buying any groceries or essential medicines they may need for sustaining the lockdown and drop them at their doors.
  • Tell them to not visit houses of relatives or acquaintances. If they live alone, keep checking up on them regularly via video calls.
  • It is important to keep a minimum distance of 1 metre from elderly persons you are living with, for their own safety- do so politely, explain the situation and the importance of such an act.

Practising good hand and respiratory hygiene

  • Precautionary measures are important to avoid a COVID-19 infection. Hand and respiratory hygiene measures must be explained to senior citizens as they might not be active on social media or their access to such vital information are limited. Disinfection of common touchpoints such as doorknobs, taps and handles also must be explained.
  • Hand washing for a good 20 seconds with soap and water is important- help them understand it, put up charts with instructions or pictures if necessary near the washbasins. Ask them to avoid touching their face, eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Make sure they have enough hygiene essentials like masks, hand sanitizers and disposable tissues. Inform them that the best way to cough or sneeze is into their elbow or a disposable tissue. 
  • Ensure masks and used tissues are disposed in a closed bin.

Diet and exercises for the elderly

For optimum health during isolation, a diet pattern with minimum regular exercises is a must, especially since a walk in the public park is definitely not recommended The following types of food are healthy and can help boost immunity.

Fruits and vegetables:

  • Green leafy vegetables like spinach, palak, cabbage
  • Carrots, beets, brinjal
  • Citrus fruits like oranges, sweet lime
  • Fresh berries
  • Guava, papaya, kiwi, watermelon

Nuts & grains:

  • Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds
  • Whole grains
  • Walnuts and almonds (soaked overnight)

Others:

  • Green tea
  • Ginger, onion, garlic, lemon and turmeric
  • Coconut water
  • Milk, buttermilk 

It is best to avoid oily, sour and spicy food as well as parcelled food items while practising social distancing to avoid any digestive problems. Avoid refrigerated food and cold juices as much as possible. It is important that these foods are incorporated into the daily diet. 

  • Adequate hydrations-  It is important to drink at least 4 litres of water per day (unless there are restrictions due to kidney disease) to maintain proper bodily functions. Smoking and alcohol is a big no-no.
  • Physical exercises: Minimal physical exercises like walking around in the house, using a treadmill at home if there are no bone or joint pains as well yoga can help break the monotony of staying at home. Respiratory exercises like deep breathing and pranayama, as well as the use of respiratory exercises in patients with asthma and breathing problems, is recommended.

Management of existing health conditions

The Indian Health Ministry has advised against non-essential visits to the hospital, follow-ups and non-essential surgeries until the lockdown is lifted. However, since many senior citizens might have coexisting health problems, it is important to ensure you have gotten prescription medicines for at least 3-4 weeks so that they do not have to step out to refill.

  • Diabetes: Store insulin and oral hypoglycemic drugs properly. It must be provided to the elderly on time and regularly for maintenance of blood glucose levels. Home glucose monitoring can be done by using test strips. Be aware of symptoms such as excessive sweating, tiredness and dizziness. For any doubts, you can always call your doctor or consult a diabetologist online.
  • Hypertension and heart disease: Medications for BP and heart ailments need to be taken regularly. BP should be checked once a week and can be done at home via electronic BP monitors. Keep a watch for symptoms such as headache and chest pain.
  • Epilepsy, stroke, Parkinson’s, and other neurological conditions: Medicines for such conditions should not be skipped. If there is a senior citizen who uses a wheelchair or has paralysis, special attention needs to be given to physiotherapy and hygiene to avoid the formation of bedsores. It is better to have a home nurse rather than having regular visits to the hospital. 
  • Osteoarthritis and bone health: Senior citizens must take their vitamin and calcium supplementations regularly for their bone health. Even if regular exercises are not possible due to pain, they can surely walk around the house with support. Helping them remain physically active will also boost their confidence.
  • Respiratory illnesses like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: Maintaining respiratory hygiene, regular medication including home oxygen supplementation, nebulisation, chest physiotherapy as well as usage of respiratory exercises are some of the things that must be in place. Keep a lookout for any severe breathing difficulty or fever. Such symptoms are not necessarily caused by coronavirus. Please consult doctors online on MFine if you have even the slightest doubt that something might not be right
  • Cancer and other immunity-related conditions: Physical isolation of senior citizens with such conditions is a must since they can be extremely vulnerable to contracting a severe coronavirus infection if they are not practising social distancing. Make sure that they are regularly taking their chemotherapy medications, as well as washing hands frequently.

It is best not to make unannounced visits to the hospital if there is a critical reason. However, if there are any queries regarding medications, management of health conditions and symptoms you may be worried about, you can consult on MFine with specialists who can help you.

Importance of mental health of the elderly

  • Depression is prevalent in about 30% of the elderly population in India (over 60 years of age). Mood disorders such as anxiety are also common. 
  • Check on senior citizens regularly- they maybe your grandparents, parents, elderly couples living in your apartment. Help them if they have needs. Social distancing can be distressing, however, you can speak to them and comfort them
  • Keep them informed- be their eyes to the world especially when they are in need of protection during such trying times. 
  • Make sure they are taking their medicines regularly if they have already pre-existing mental health issues. Give them the assurance that this too is a phase and it will pass. Do not neglect their needs.

Keep in mind that the elderly are important pillars of society. They are living books to a plethora of life experiences and history. Thus, it is our duty to step up and protect them.  None of us are alone in this. As a community, we can flatten the disease curve and conquer the challenges of this pandemic

If you follow these guidelines religiously, you’re less likely to get infected by COVID-19.

If you are experiencing symptoms like cough, fever, sore throat or breathing difficulties, it is advised that you consult a doctor as soon as possible. Get your symptoms assessed by top doctors on your phone on the MFine app.

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