How COVID-19 is affecting older adults and people with disabilities

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EVERYONE IS CONCERNED about possible infection with the coronavirus, but the health stakes are highest for older adults. Normal aging of the immune system and underlying medical conditions make people 60 and up more vulnerable to severe respiratory illness from coronavirus. Although most people who are infected with the coronavirus only have a mild case that feels like a common cold, others can become very sick.

Specialized Care Management is a local, nationally certified care management company located in Reno, NV and services Reno, Sparks, Carson City, Minden, Gardnerville, Incline, Fernley, and Fallon. Our vision is to facilitate our clients’ safety and independence by connecting them to local community resources and then overseeing their care.

Our goal is to address the challenging needs of our seniors, disabled persons, and their families with immediate and long-term needs. We collaborate with home care agencies, hospice agencies, Veterans Administration, various health plans, financial and legal agencies, assisted living, skilled services, and specialty providers. We provide personalized assessments and care plans to help families navigate the variety of caregiving concerns and advocate for our clients’ overall quality of life.

Many seniors in Northern Nevada do not have a family locally, so the need is huge right now in our community for professional coordination of care.

"The elderly are going to be the ones who become symptomatic," says Karen Hoffmann, an infection preventionist and immediate past president of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, or APIC. In particular, she says, older adults who also have existing conditions including lung disease, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes or a transplant history are most likely to experience severe COVID-19 symptoms such as shortness of breath and fever.

"When they get an infection, any respiratory infection – but particularly this new coronavirus, probably because they haven't seen this strain before – they're going to have more severe disease, as they would with influenza," says Hoffmann, who is also a clinical instructor in the division of infectious diseases at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill. "That's what we're seeing so far."

Public Precautions

A few weeks ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its traveler guidance in light of the increased risk of person-to-person spread of infectious diseases including COVID-19.

Older adults and those with underlying health issues are explicitly advised to avoid crowded places, nonessential travel like long plane trips and especially embarking on cruise ships.

If you're an older adult living within the community, extra vigilance and commonsense precautions help reduce your risk of being exposed to the coronavirus. This is the latest advice from health experts on how to protect yourself (and others) in public:

Hand-wash, hand-wash, hand-wash. Wash your hands frequently and rigorously. It takes at least 20 seconds to thoroughly wash your hands.

• ideally with soap and tap water. "If soap is not available, then (use) hand sanitizer with 60% alcohol," Morrison says.

Stay away from large gatherings. Avoiding mass gatherings and crowded settings, such as concerts, conferences and parades, is not only a self-precaution for older adults, but also a proactive measure that many locales and organizations are now taking by canceling or postponing planned events. Some workplaces and schools are temporarily turning to virtual classes and more telecommuting options to keep workers and students healthy.

Avoid sick people. If someone has symptoms such as sneezing, coughing or a fever, don't put yourself in the line of airborne droplets. "We are obviously telling older adults to stay away from people who have respiratory illnesses, even if it looks to be a minor cold or a seasonal upper respiratory infection," Morrison says.

Observe social distance. If you go out, maintain at least a 3-to-6-foot distance between yourself and others, particularly if someone seems sick. That's how far the coronavirus appears to spread when someone is coughing or sneezing.

Use a barrier on public surfaces. That door handle or shopping cart bar has already been touched by countless strangers. Before you grab that surface, use a clean tissue as a barrier, Hoffmann suggests, and throw it away afterward. Or some grocery stores provide disinfecting wipes at the entrance, so wipe down the bar before grabbing your cart.

Practice respiratory etiquette. Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, either with a tissue or your inner elbow (not your hand). If you're sick, stay home or wear a mask in public settings like waiting rooms to protect those around you. (Handwashing is also a respiratory etiquette mainstay.) Wear a face mask or barrier, if you have one. This isn't new, but standard for preventing the spread of infectious diseases including common colds, flu, pneumonia and now COVID-19.

Don't touch certain areas of your face. Your hands come into contact with many surfaces carrying thousands of germs throughout the day. While you're in public spaces, avoid touching the "T-zone" of your face – your mouth, eyes and nose, which are mucous membranes where viruses can thrive, Hoffmann says. (However, it's OK to scratch you ear, touch your hair or rub your chin.)

Avoid any air travel if you can. "I'm recommending to my patients that if they don't have necessary air travel, to avoid it if at all possible until we know a little more about this," Morrison says. "You have a lot of people in confined spaces and you don't know how many people have sat and touched the seat that you're getting into."

If you must travel, go prepared. Morrison recommends taking alcohol wipes along, wiping down areas of the seat you'll be touching and leaving those sections wet for up to 30 seconds. Also, wash your hands carefully and routinely hand-sanitize. When you're in airport lounges or waiting areas, sit off by yourself rather than mingling with large groups of people.

Look at the situation where you live. Keep up to date on how the coronavirus is affecting your area. Take extra care everywhere but be particularly mindful where current conditions indicate the infection is spreading.

Stock up on supplies and medications. Make sure you have everyday household items, groceries including non-perishable food and medical supplies on hand in case you need to stay home for a prolonged period. Ask your health care provider about getting extra prescription medications to tide you over.

Wearing a mask if you're sick may keep you from spreading infected droplets when you cough or sneeze. However, although masks are getting a lot of attention as potential preventive options, they're not particularly useful for healthy people.

Wearing a mask and latex gloves when you go out in public to stay safer is recommended by CDC.

Are you struggling to Navigate the healthcare maze? Specialized Care Management can help. Specialized Care Management is offering a complimentary 30-minute telephone consultation, so call us at 1-800-916-6482.


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