COVID-19 Resources

Care Guide: Staying Healthy as an Older Adult During COVID-19

May. 14, 2020

COVID-19 has proven capable of impacting people of all ages. Some people may not even show symptoms of the disease, but are able to pass it along to others, causing more cases of infection.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified those over the age of 65 to be at higher risk for COVID-19. Older adults are twice as likely to develop serious symptoms of COVID-19 compared to younger adults and are strongly recommended to practice social distancing.

“Our immune and respiratory systems change as we age, making it more challenging to fight off disease,” says Kara Ciani, MD, UC Health primary care physician, geriatrician and assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. “Many older adults are likely to have underlying health conditions, which may make it more challenging to cope and recover from the virus.”

Staying Active and Community Opportunities

Dr. Ciani says the most important thing for older adults is to take care of themselves:

  • Stay active.
  • Keep your mind and body active by turning to interests you had before the pandemic.
  • Add stretching, walking, meditating and taking deep breaths to your daily routine.
  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Allow your mind to rest and take breaks from tuning into the news and social media, as this can often be a trigger for stress and anxiety.

One question she hears frequently from her patients is, “Is it safe to go outside for a walk?” There is no reason older adults cannot go outside for a walk. Take simple precautions to keep yourself safe: plan ahead, stay six feet away from those around you, bring water and avoid the use of public restrooms.

Other means to stay active while sheltering in place include staying connected with friends and loved ones, volunteering and experiencing the local arts. Consider writing letters to friends and family, letting them know you are thinking about them and sharing in this experience. Reflect on your experiences by writing in a journal, which can be shared with your family as your own piece of history.

Volunteering is another way to stay connected with your community. Cincinnati Cares is a volunteer organization that coordinates volunteer experiences which can be done at home, such as sewing masks or making art for those in the community.

Cincinnati ArtsWave has partnered with local organizations to compose virtual exhibits called Mindful Music Moments. Starting in June 2020, the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County will be offering curbside pickup. The library is also offering “virtual events” on their website to stay connected with the arts and community.

Resources Available to Help

While older adults should remain active, they should try to limit potential exposure to COVID-19 by minimizing trips outside of the home and visitors into the home. This is a time to reach out to your friends, family and neighbors in the community for assistance.

There are also community-based programs designed to help with basic needs during the pandemic. The Council on Aging of Southwestern Ohio has created programs to assist older adults or people with disabilities. These services include meal delivery and mental health resources. The Alzheimer’s Association - Greater Cincinnati Chapter has many online resources to assist caregivers of persons living with dementia.

Another local program is Cincinnati + NKY COVID-19 Match, which was created by medical students at the UC College of Medicine. This program matches medical students with adults over the age of 60, or otherwise at high risk, to help with groceries, prescription drug delivery and checking in every few days to maintain social contact during the pandemic. Their team has recruited volunteers who are ready to help connect older adults to the community.

If someone needs to come into your home, including hired assistance and caregivers, ensure they perform a temperature check before entering. Anyone with a temperature over 100 degrees Fahrenheit should be excluded from entering. Ask them if they have been exposed to a person with COVID-19 in the past 14 days. When a staff member enters your home, ask them to please wear a face mask and wash their hands.

Should Older Adults Go to the Emergency Department?

Monitor how you feel each day and watch for symptoms of COVID-19, which include fever, cough and shortness of breath, and other more subtle symptoms, such as sore throat, fatigue, diarrhea and loss of sense of smell. If you feel you are developing symptoms, stay at home and call your healthcare provider. Inform them you have symptoms of COVID-19, and you and your care team can develop a personal care plan.

In most cases, people with COVID-19 symptoms are recommended to recover at home and self-quarantine for 14 days. If you develop emergency symptoms of COVID-19, such as severe shortness of breath and severe fatigue, please seek medical attention immediately in the Emergency Department.

Older adults can plan ahead in the event of illness or an emergency by developing a care plan to summarize health conditions, medications, emergency contacts and end of life decisions. This can be created in consultation with your physician. If you become ill, your loved ones will know and be empowered to respect your wishes. This care plan will have benefits beyond the pandemic. An example of a care plan can be downloaded from the CDC website.

Virtual and Phone Visits

UC Health Primary Care has worked over the past two months to transition to primarily televisits. Televisits allow for phone and video interaction with your physician, without leaving the home.

“The medical community came to realize that COVID-19 will be with us for months to come. Therefore, I encourage patients to try this form of visit because it is important now more than ever to help people living with chronic diseases remain well,” says Dr. Ciani.

Many chronic conditions, such as diabetes, depression and high blood pressure, can be managed virtually in collaboration with your physician. If you are curious if a particular condition can be managed virtually, do not hesitate to reach out to your physician’s office.

Although COVID-19 continues to impact older adults around our community, there are many ways to keep yourself safe and well until social distancing restrictions are lifted. Resources are available to help with anything you may need. Dr. Ciani and the rest of UC Health Primary Care are here to help with virtual and in-person visits.