Public health experts offered advice to senior citizens and family members caring for aging relatives about staying healthy as businesses reopen. Their strongest advice: Regardless of the current phase of reopening the economy, seniors are safest staying at home.
How seniors can avoid infection and stay safe as the economy reopens:
  • Avoid leaving home except for essential errands. This advice even applies to returning to your place of worship though some churches may be reopening with social distancing measures in place. Seniors should ask their faith leaders about how to remain safe during worship, but the best strategy for COVID-19 prevention is to be reverent from home.
  • Have groceries delivered. Some restaurants are reopening their dining rooms, but do not eat at the restaurant. Order food for delivery or curbside pickup.
  • Pick up prescriptions from the pharmacy’s drive-through window rather than entering the store, or have them delivered.
  • Expect, and request, online appointments rather than in-person visits, for doctor visits and other services such as counseling, home health care and prescription refill orders. Many healthcare providers, including many at VUMC, are holding appointments and refilling prescriptions via telehealth. Ask if an online video appointment is available. The clinic should be able to help you set up the necessary technology on your phone, tablet or computer.
  • For seniors who are still working, continue working from home, for those whose jobs can be done remotely. For others, talk with your employer about using an office with no other occupants; and/or keeping hours different from others to avoid working physically close to others.
  • If you must go out for an essential reason, wear a fabric face mask in public. Businesses are supposed to require employees to wear face masks, too. Know the proper way to wear these masks. The masks help prevent someone who may be infected from breathing the virus onto other people.
  • Wash hands frequently, especially after returning home after an errand. Use hand sanitizer frequently if you must go on an essential errand.

Experts acknowledged that staying home brings mental health challenges. Seniors may become socially isolated, especially if they live alone in a rural area. Financial constraints, the death of a spouse and other factors can leave older adults feeling overwhelmed, anxious or depressed. Poor mental health can worsen physical health. Depression and anxiety can contribute to problems, including substance abuse, poor sleep and more. Despite which, health practitioners encourage finding ways to practice self-care as a means of escape.

Advice for seniors on combatting the mental health aspects of isolation:

  • Make lots of phone calls to loved ones, and ask loved ones to call you frequently. Using the FaceTime feature on iPhones lets both parties see each other.
  • Video conferencing, using technology such as Zoom, Skype or Teams, lets you communicate with and see several people at once. These tools work on a computer, laptop, smartphone or tablet. Seniors who have never used these before can ask tech-savvy relatives or friends to teach them how to set them up and use them; so can many of the local agencies serving seniors, listed below.
  • In-person visits are OK under certain limits. However, anyone feeling symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, dry cough, body aches, difficulty breathing and/or a loss of sense of taste) should stay home and contact their healthcare provider to determine the best way to treat the illness.