[Editor’s Note: At the time of publication, all information in this article was correct].
We have all experienced a sudden change in our normal lives as we come head to head with the increasing impact of the coronavirus crisis. But feeling the shock most, are societies most vulnerable.
Among the most unsettled are the people who need us now more than ever before- our older friends, relatives and neighbours.
In this post, we are going to look at the impacts of the Coronavirus crisis on the elderly and on our elderly living with dementia. We will go over what you can do to help the loneliness during this time to avoid them feeling isolated.
What is coronavirus
Coronavirus formally called COVID-19 is a virus that affects primarily the lungs, airways and gastrointestinal systems. For many, it can cause mild symptoms, while for others it can require urgent medical attention.
We saw the emergence of the Coronavirus appear in Wuhan China in December 2019. It has since spread to over 180 countries including here in the UK.
How does Coronavirus spread?
It’s important to understand how the virus spreads so you can take the correct measures to limit its exposure.
The Coronavirus is a highly contagious airborne virus, that transmits through respiratory droplets usually through coughs and sneezes. It passes from person to person at a very fast rate. If an infected person gets the virus on their hands, they can spread it by touching surfaces (like door handles). Other people then touching these surfaces can easily contract the virus. It is so infectious that even standing within 1- 2 meters of an infected person can risk you catching it.
There is an average incubation period of 1-14 days (but this can also be as high as 24 days). This is where you have been exposed to the virus and before you experience any symptoms. You are contagious within this incubation period, which is why this virus is spreading so quickly. People who feel fine are going about their daily life as normal, and coming into contact with many, many people without realising they are infecting others.
Our government has asked everyone to stay home and self-isolate to lower the risk of the virus spreading. Only those who are deemed not high risk should only leave the house for limited purposes. These include:
- Shopping for basic necessities as infrequently as possible and to use online delivery if possible.
- One form of exercise per day, either alone or with members from the same household.
- Any medical or essential care and support to a vulnerable person.
- Travelling to and from work, if working from home is not possible.
When you are in contact with other people (outside of your home) keep a distance of 2 meters apart. All non-essential shops and community spaces have been closed for the foreseeable future to minimise people leaving their home. If anyone is breaking the measures, authorities will be called to disperse groups and you may have a £30 fine.
These measures may seem extreme, but given what we understand about this virus and how quickly it spreads it is essential we as a society protect vulnerable people.
Who is classed as a vulnerable person?
People over the age of 70 have been asked to self-isolate at home for up to four months to shield them from the Coronavirus.
Other vulnerable groups include people with underlying health conditions and pregnant women.
Symptoms of the Coronavirus
If you are experiencing any of these common symptoms below do not visit family members, and self- isolate immediately for a period of 14 days.
- A persistent dry cough
- A high temperature of 37.7°C or above
- Shortness of breath
These symptoms can extend to:
- A sore throat
- A blocked/runny nose
- Stomach discomfort and diarrhoea
For about 4 out of 5 people who get coronavirus, they will experience mild to moderate symptoms, which they must rest up and stay hydrated to recover.
1 out of 5 people are becoming very seriously ill from the virus and need hospital treatment. This translates to around 1 in 20 people needing critical intensive care in hospital. (Information sourced from ageuk.org).
What the impacts are on the most vulnerable members
It’s worrying time for people over the age of 70, and our elderly members living with dementia. Many rely heavily on carers or family coming into their homes to look after their basic daily needs. With the social distancing measures in place, many carers and family members are needing to go into self-isolation. This leaves many elderly people having to look after themselves or their spouses all alone.
These people need support now more than ever.
We will now see an increase in:
- loneliness and isolation for the elderly
- A lack of care
- Impact on their confidence and independence (as they may heavily rely on their weekly group activities)
- Reduction in their physical exercise and movement
- Less communication with people which can affect their mental health, and possibly lead to depression
What does this mean for people living with dementia?
For those living with dementia, their memory could be severely affected. This means that the lack of visits and the total breakdown of their usual routine can be stressful and confusing to them.
They may forget to wash their hands regularly or take other recommended precautions, making them more susceptible to catching the virus.
What can you do to help?
If you’re fit and healthy there are a few things you can do to help society and in particular our vulnerable members during the Coronavirus crisis.
1. Volunteer your time
This week over 400,000 people have volunteered to help the NHS. People from all over the UK are selflessly devoting their time to help elevate the strain the Coronavirus is bringing to our healthcare system.
People are volunteering their time though either delivering medicine from pharmacies, driving patients to appointments, bringing people home from the hospital and even making regular phone calls to check on people isolating a home.
The health service has joined up with the RVS and the GoodSAM app – a digital tool to help people offer their services.
You can also sign up to the National Care Force. This is a group looking for volunteers to help during the Coronavirus. You can help by dropping off shopping, or cooking and delivering dinner for people.
2. Buy and drop off food and sanitary products to those who need it
Being asked to self-isolate for a minimum of 16 weeks is a daunting prospect for the elderly. Many have lots of help and visits from family members to get weekly shopping, doctors’ appointments or even outings to local social groups.
Without external help at this time, many elderly people are in fear of being neglected. One major thing you can do to help would be to buy their essential shopping items or pick up medication and drop it at their doorstep. You should try to ensure they have at least 2 weeks of food at their home.
3. Reach out and communicate with an elderly family member or neighbour
Communicating and staying in touch with the elderly or someone living with dementia is vital as we ride out the Coronavirus lockdown. It’s essential that while maintaining contact you’re doing your utmost to ensure you don’t risk infecting them.
The best way to do this is to keep in touch. Encourage other family members to get involved so at least one person from the family checks in with them per day.
If you have elderly family members who have grasped technology and can even use a smartphone, a great way of staying in touch would be to text, WhatsApp, email, Facebook, group chat and video call. You can even help them install apps if possible.
Check-in with them from time to time ensuring all their needs are met, and also for some socialising. This can be a great relief for an elderly person looking after a spouse living with dementia. Maintaining somewhat of social life will be a much needed time for them to relieve stress. Make sure you keep the conversation focused on positives.
For the non-tech savvy elderly:
While the majority of us can’t live without our smartphones, almost a whole generation of people are overwhelmed and unable to use them. This is especially true for people living with dementia. They may have lost some of their fine motor skills so can’t select the touch screen buttons, or they may simply forget how to use the phone.
So what other methods of staying in touch can you try while remaining socially distant?
A simple phone call
For the elderly, a simple phone call can keep them company in times of loneliness.
If you have an elderly neighbour, send them a letter through their door with your name and telephone number and ask them to call you if they need anything- even if it’s just a chat!
Send puzzles or crossword books in the post
Send homemade cards
Get children involved in drawing pictures or writing letters to keep spirits up. This will be great home activities for the kids during the stay at home isolation period too.
Use specialised communicative tools designed for the elderly and people living with dementia.
There are many apps and even devices made with elderly people in mind. Since the spread and social distancing of the Coronavirus, the KOMP device has completely sold out in the UK.
KOMP is a video calling device made with just 3 simple buttons that elderly people and people with mild dementia can use easily all by themselves. The ringer calls for 5 minutes, allowing people plenty of time to get up to answer the device. The screen is nice and big for any visual impairments and has an easy to use the volume control
If you live with an elderly or vulnerable person
If you live with an elderly person you need to be extra careful, make sure you do the following:
- Do not socialise or go to public places
- Self-isolate at home
- Order online food deliveries or arrange for family/ friends to drop off shopping at the doorstep
- Wash hands regularly for at least 20 seconds
- Sneeze or cough into a tissue and throw it away immediately or if you don’t have a tissue on hand, use the bend of your elbow
- Keep your hands away from your face
- Frequently disinfect surfaces, doorknobs, light switches, handrails and all frequently touched surfaces in your home. Including medical and assistive equipment.
- If any carers need to come into your home, ask them to wash their hands immediately if you notice they aren’t.
Caring support for elderly or someone living with dementia
If you and your family are the main caregivers for a loved one living with dementia there steps you can take to ensure you’re going to manage it as best you can during this time.
- Postpone unnecessary doctors’ visits
- Put in place reminders for them to increase their hygiene habits, place signs in bathrooms telling them to wash hands for 20 seconds.
- Demonstrate hygienic handwashing, even put up pictures.
- Put hand sanitizer in areas where they frequently eat.
- Ask their doctor to fill prescriptions for a longer amount of days to reduce trips to the pharmacy.
- Put in place alternative care plans with family members in the case of the main caregiver getting sick.
- Try home activities for stimulation that don’t require going out to public places or groups. E.G make a memory book, try reminiscence therapy activities.
If you haven’t yet followed Duncan Raban on YouTube, Instagram or Facebook yet, then now may be a good time. His #JustSayHello movement is focused around bringing the community together by simply just saying hello.
Use his platform to connect with others and uplift spirits during this uncertain time.
Helplines and online groups to contact for support
We are experiencing very unusual circumstances and we need all the support we can get.
For further support lines and support groups please see the list of contacts below:
Supporting dementia during Coronavirus:
Admiral Nurse Dementia Helpline: 0800 888 6678 or email email@example.com.
Support groups for carers of dementia: https://www.facebook.com/tidecarers/