How to Help Elderly Friends and Family Get Through Self-Isolation

6 tips from a geriatrician
Maria Tershukova | 05 November 2020
How to Help Elderly Friends and Family Get Through Self-Isolation
Photo: Rawpixel

Starting from October, self-isolation regime for the elderly has been resumed in Russia. The downside of the regime is the lack of sunlight, physical activity and live communication. Geriatrician Nadezhda Runikhina, deputy director for geriatrics at the Russian Gerontological Research and Clinical Center, explains how to help elderly loved ones during the pandemic.

1. Buy food and medicine

Nadezhda Runikhina

Get all the necessary groceries, household goods, medicines, which will last for two or more weeks. And take them to your elderly loved ones.

Lack of sunlight, necessary for vitamin D production, and physical activity during the pandemic can be detrimental to the bone health of older people in the future, so it is imperative that they can make up for this deficiency from food.

Therefore, be sure to buy food that is rich in calcium and vitamin D. A lot of calcium is found in milk, cheeses, yogurt, salmon, seeds, nuts, dried fruits, beans and legumes, and greens. Food rich in vitamin D includes salmon, sardines and other fatty fish, herring, canned tuna, cod liver oil, egg yolks, mushrooms, cow’s milk, and soy milk.

2. Observe quarantine and hygiene

If you live in the same apartment with your elderly relatives, you should pay special attention to observing the rules of personal hygiene carefully. And, if possible, stay in quarantine. Otherwise, you can become the reason for their infection.

Even if you feel well, remember that the symptoms of the coronavirus infection may appear after two weeks or not at all, but you will be a carrier of the virus and can pose a serious threat to the health of your loved ones.

If you live separately and bring food and medicine, you, first, have to be sure that you do not have A.R.V.I. symptoms, and second, observe the “epidemiological quarantine”. Refrain from hugging, keep a distance of 1.5–2 meters, wear a face mask and rubber gloves, leave bags of food at the entrance and leave.

Do not bring children to visit your elderly relatives during the period of self-isolation.

3. Help maintain physical activity

Lack of walking reduces activity and needs to be compensated for. Without exercise and sunlight, older people are at increased risk of developing osteoporosis and, as a result, a hip fracture – one of the main geriatric symptoms that leads to death in about a third of cases. The risk of getting a femur fracture at home is comparable to the risk of falls and fractures outside the home. That is why it is important, especially under quarantine conditions, to provide an elderly person with a safe life and minimize risk factors for falls, as well as to think about preventing fractures.

Free up the space on the balcony for the elderly person to get out in the sun, try to convince your family members to do morning exercises, exercise regularly, walk around the apartment, and maybe dance. You can even give them a watch to track their steps remotely.

If you notice that your loved one has been sitting all day, be sure to call him, find out how he feels – perhaps he needs psychological support and additional motivation to be active.

A sedentary lifestyle will affect not only the bones, but also the heart. The recommended amount of physical activity for a relatively healthy person is at least 150 minutes per week.

4. Monitor the well-being of your loved ones

It is now better to refuse scheduled visits to doctors. People with chronic diseases should, as before, follow all the instructions of the attending physician and take their medications. In case of deterioration of health, acute injuries, and falls, urgent hospitalization is required.

Stay constantly in touch with your family members to help them in case of urgent need to call a doctor or an ambulance.

Also try to make sure that a mobile phone is always in the reach of your relative. For example, suggest that they always carry it in their pocket or hang it around their neck. Then, in the event of a fall and a fracture, your family member will be able to contact you.

5. Provide a safe living environment

Any injury will now be especially dangerous, so try to provide an elderly relative with a safe life:

  1. Make sure he has a cane or walker, especially for those who have frequent episodes of dizziness.
  2. Check the condition of the floor in each room, its surface must be flat and not slippery, and note that carpets are dangerous for the elderly, as they often trip over the edges. Carpets should be removed or secured firmly.
  3. Change the bulbs so that the lights don’t blow out unexpectedly at night. If your family members live in a house with a staircase, make sure the staircase is well lit and the railings are secured.
  4. Remove all foreign objects that could cause a fall from their rooms and passages. The same applies to the wires, they must be attached to the wall so that the elderly person cannot trip over them.
  5. If your relative has already broken a femur, they are at risk for a second fracture. Therefore, doctors recommend using special hip protectors.
  6. Place a non-slip mat on the bathroom floor.
  7. Also, check if there are any problems with wiring, gas or pipes in the apartment so that you do not have to violate the quarantine of an elderly person and call a master during the pandemic.

6. Call them as often as possible

First, try to ask them as often as possible if they have an urgent need for something – food, medicine, essentials, or help in eliminating household problems.

Second, older people tend to be more nervous and worried about the health of their own children and grandchildren – that is, yourself. It is better for them not to worry now, so as not to exacerbate chronic cardiovascular diseases. Call them and let them know that you are well.

Third, support your family members psychologically, help them stay optimistic, remind them that the restrictions are temporary. There are still enough reasons for joy, you can communicate with family and friends over the Internet and phone.

7. Take care of additional help

If you suddenly have to be in quarantine yourself and cannot leave the house, think about which other family member or friend could replace you during this time. Check your decision with your elderly relative.

Help self-isolating elderly relatives stay calm and not panic. Make sure that they have access to information from official sources and they perceive it adequately. Take care of yourself and your family!

Reference. The #OldLivesMatter International Initiative is aimed at protecting older people from age discrimination and indifference to the problems of the older generation. The launch of the campaign is timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the introduction of the provision on the rights of older persons to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. Gerontologists from all over the world who have joined the action are asking people to pay attention to urgent problems of elderly people and help in solving them.

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